JUST IN: Marine Corps to Prioritize Light Amphibious Warships if Given More Funding
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If the Marine Corps receives budget plus-ups in future fiscal cycles, it will invest what it can in light amphibious warships, the service's top officer said Feb. 8.
President Joe Biden is expected to submit his budget request for 2023 to Congress in the coming months. Historically, Congress has often added money to the military service's toplines based on unfunded requirements lists and other considerations.
At the National Defense Industrial Association's Expeditionary Warfare Conference, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger was asked how his service would like to spend extra funding it might receive in the future.
“I don't know how that will go, but from my Marine Corps lens things like amphibious ships, light amphibious warships are Marine Corps requirements,” he said.
The Department of the Navy, which the Corps is part of, currently plans to acquire 24 to 35 of the vessels, also known as LAWs, and procure the first platform in fiscal year 2023.
Berger noted that fiscal plus-ups can be tied to certain programs or capabilities, and funneling the additional resources into his priorities may not be possible.
“My role is to say, in order for us to achieve the objectives, the requirements that are laid out in the national defense strategy, and global force management … this is what it's going to take,” he said.
Light amphibious warships are a requirement for transforming the Marine Corps, he noted. Berger's Force Design 2030 — aimed at preparing the Marines for a potential conflict with China — calls for divesting of legacy systems and reducing end strength to help pay for modernization and new platforms.
Officials expect LAWs to bring flexibility to U.S. maritime forces. The vessels are critical to the Marine Corps’ role in great power competition, Berger said.
The Defense Department is targeting a per unit procurement cost of $100 million to $150 million, according to the Congressional Research Service.
In addition to procuring the platforms, the Marine Corps must ensure the resources exist to sustain the ships over time, Berger noted.
“You can't just look at the ... price tag of a thing,” he said. “It's a long-term capital investment. It’s the 30, 40 years it's going to take to man, train and equip that ship, maintain it, modernize it."
Meanwhile, Berger said industry has the capacity to build the LAWs at the same time as larger amphibious platforms. He said shipbuilders such as Huntington-Ingalls have told him manufacturing both types of ships simultaneously is possible.
“There's not a tradeoff,” he said. “Our capacity in the industrial base can handle both.”
The capabilities of smaller and larger amphibious platforms are complementary, he said. The need for traditional amphibious ships still exists, and introducing a more flexible system doesn’t change that, he added.
“It's the tactical mobility to move a smaller element organically that fits this stand-in force approach that we're taking,” he said, referring to operating concepts that call for deploying Marines in close proximity to enemy forces, as opposed to operating from stand-off distances.