Marine Forces Japan Commander Raises Concerns on Amphibious Ship Numbers, Readiness

By Valerie Insinna

While the Marine Corps has enough amphibious ships to support a singular engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, it currently does not have enough of them to deploy multiple amphibious forces concurrently, said the commanding general of Marine Forces Japan.

Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, said the Marine Corps would be able to perform a lone mission in the Asia-Pacific region. “Will we be able to do it in multiple places simultaneously, or on a scale that would allow us the rapid kind of build up that we would want? No."

Throughout his comments April 11 during a media roundtable, Wissler reiterated assertions made by other service leaders who say that the Navy and Marine Corps do not have the amphibious ships necessary to meet their needs. With a requirement of 50 amphibious vessels and fiscal pressures mounting on the military, that is unlikely to change any time soon, he said.

Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert has stated that the force can meet most requirements with 38 amphibious ships, Wissler noted. But the service can only afford to grow its current 29-vessel fleet to 33 ships over the next decade.

To meet requirements in the Pacific, Wissler said he would need two full-time amphibious ready groups, which typically include an amphibious assault ship, an amphibious landing ship and a dock landing ship along with aircraft and a Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“That would be six amphibious ships afloat all the time,” he said. “Admiral Greenert has committed to sending a second amphibious ready group to the Pacific in 2017, but in order to maintain six amphibious ships afloat all the time, you would need probably 24 amphibious ships on a one-to-four rotation in order to do the proper maintenance.”

The service is already struggling to ensure its aging amphibious ships are ready for action. When Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines on Nov. 8, the Marine Corps sent two squads of MV-22 Ospreys in the following days to deliver supplies.

However, “we didn’t have the amphibious ready group readily available,” Wissler said. “All four of the forward deployed naval force amphibious ships were in maintenance when the typhoon struck. It was an unfortunate bit of timing, and it was what it was.”

The ships were going through maintenance in order to be ready for their spring patrol, he said.

On Nov. 22, The USS Ashland and USS Germantown dock landing ships arrived at the scene and replaced aircraft carrier USS George Washington. The vessels brought supplies ashore and delivered equipment such as dump trucks to remove heavy debris, National Defense previously reported. About 450 Marines from each ship carried out relief operations, including evacuating survivors.

Because of the aircraft’s speed and agility, the service would have sent the Ospreys ahead even if amphibious ships were ready to set sail, Wissler contended.

However, he remains concerned about amphibious ship availability. Marine Forces Japan only has a full, three-ship amphibious ready group at hand 60 percent of the time, he said.

The maintenance burden will only worsen should fiscal pressures continue and sequestration returns in 2016, he added. “We have run those ships really, really hard and they are an aging fleet, and so there just are natural challenges.”

Topics: Expeditionary Warfare, Shipbuilding

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