Marine Corps Commandant Dunford: Alternatives for Amphibious Warships Needed

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

SAN DIEGO — The Marine Corps needs 50 amphibious warships to tend to all the missions it must perform around the globe, but there are currently only 31 available. The service will have to seek alternative platforms to fill that gap, said the commandant of the Marine Corps on Feb. 12.

“There is a requirement for over 50 ships on a day-to-day basis, that’s what … the combatant commanders are asking for,” said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. “We’ve got an objective of 38 — that’s the requirement within the Department of the Navy. We’ve got a fiscally constrained objective of about 33. We’ve got an inventory right now of 31.”

That equates to “significant readiness challenges,” he noted during a panel discussion at the AFCEA West 2015 Conference.

The Navy will increase its fleet of amphibious vessels to 33 over the next four to six years, he noted. In the mean time, the Marine Corps must be creative and flexible as it seeks alternatives to the vessels that are used to transport and station Marines around the world, often in contested areas.

“There’s got to be another answer besides just amphibious ships,” he said. “We’re working very closely on alternative platforms not as a substitute for amphibious ships, not as substitute for a warship, but as an opportunity to get Marines to sea to be more responsive to combatant commanders.”

For instance, using mobile landing platform afloat forward staging base vessels are one solution, Dunford said. The ships have flight decks as well as command-and-control stations. They are compatible with V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which could be used to ferry Marines to shore for forward presence engagements as well as crisis response missions.

“By no means are they replacements. They’re not a warship. They’re not a replacement for an amphibious ship. But they are [a way] to augment our capability to meet our requirements on a day-to-day basis and are very, very capable ships,” he said.

The Marine Corps plans to test out new concepts of operations that take advantage of alternative platforms in U.S. Africa Command's area of responsibility as well as in Australia this year, Dunford said.

The Navy has struggled to fill out the amphib fleet. One of its top procurement efforts is the 12th ship of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships (LPD 17), which was designated as LPD 28.

In the Defense Department fiscal year 2016 budget request, the Navy allocated $668.7 million to complete funding for the ship after Congress enacted $1 billion toward the program last year. The vessel is to be built by Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Adm. Michelle J. Howard, vice chief of naval operations, said the Navy saw Congress’ action as a “great opportunity” to procure the ship. The sea service remains committed to acquiring more amphibious ships in the future, she noted.

Marine Corps and Navy leaders have said LPD 28 will be a key acquisition as the services look ahead toward the procurement of the future next-generation amphibious ship known as the LXR.

During a forum held on Capitol Hill in February that focused on amphibious vessels, legislators such as Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on readiness, said the LXR is critically needed as adversaries adopt new technologies that could one day harm the United States.

Topics: Shipbuilding

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