Cover: Connector Survivability in the Current Operating Environment

Connector Survivability in the Current Operating Environment

Published Oct 4, 2023

by Colin D. Smith, Stephen Webber

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Research Questions

  1. How have past concepts driven Navy and Marine Corps thinking about watercraft survivability?
  2. How was survivability factored into the requirements for today's fleet of amphibious connectors?
  3. How can the Navy and Marine Corps improve surface connector survivability for the fleet of the future?

China and Russia are widely acknowledged as near-peer threats to the United States and its allies. Engagement with these adversaries could involve amphibious operations of various degrees. New U.S. Marine Corps strategies and the need for more expeditionary flexibility by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force require modernization of U.S. capabilities in source—port, ship, shore—to objective movement in contested environments. Amphibious ship-to-shore connectors fall into this category, but might not provide sufficient lift, survivability, and speed for future requirements. Survivability is a critical design component of the U.S. Navy's fleet of amphibious connectors. Current operating concepts and an evolving threat environment demand that the Navy and Marine Corps reevaluate survivability of connectors in their analysis for the current and future fleet. Connectors that were deemed survivable under different concepts in a different threat environment might not be as survivable when they operate in a contested environment against an evolved adversary.

The Navy and Marine Corps must address the survivability of their current fleet of amphibious combat craft, which they rely on for maneuver and sustainment of troops and large equipment. Current operational concepts—distributed maritime operations (DMO), Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO), and Stand-In Forces (SiFs)—recognize a new threat environment, and current requirements for survivability might not be sufficient for this environment.

Key Findings

  • The Navy and Marine Corps designed and developed its current fleet of connectors for a different era and different operational concepts.
  • Current concepts, such as DMO, EABO, and SiFs, recognize that the Navy and Marine Corps face a new threat environment that will require them to operate differently.
  • The Navy and Marine Corps have demonstrated different levels of prioritization of survivability in the face of trade-offs between survivability and cost, ship availability, maneuverability, and other factors.
  • The Naval Services should address the survivability of their current fleet of amphibious craft, which they rely on for maneuver and sustainment of troops and large equipment and consider how to apply the established survivability framework to developing updated requirements.


  • Develop and formalize an analytic framework for connector survivability and use it to develop requirements for future connectors.
  • Invest in the survivability of the current connector fleet to enhance the viability of current platforms.
  • Develop tactics, techniques, and procedures and associated training to support the Marine Corps' new operating concepts.
  • Elevate the role of operational and tactical intelligence for amphibious forces.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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