Navy’s Force Design 2045 Plans for 373 Ship Fleet, 150 Unmanned Vessels

The latest plan to design a future force calls for a fleet of 373 manned ships, buttressed by about 150 unmanned surface and underwater vehicles by 2045, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s update to his Navigation Plan for the Navy. “In the 2040s and beyond, we envision this hybrid fleet to […]

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) sails alongside amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA-7) during a photo exercise for Valiant Shield 2022 on June 12, 2022. US Navy Photo

The latest plan to design a future force calls for a fleet of 373 manned ships, buttressed by about 150 unmanned surface and underwater vehicles by 2045, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s update to his Navigation Plan for the Navy.

“In the 2040s and beyond, we envision this hybrid fleet to require more than 350 manned ships, about 150 large unmanned surface and subsurface platforms, and approximately 3,000 aircraft,” reads the NAVPLAN obtained by USNI News.
“Strategic competition with China is both a current and long-term challenge. Focusing our force design on 2045 will inform the most consequential decisions and investments the Navy needs to make in the critical decade ahead.”

Last week, USNI News reported the service had delivered a classified force structure assessment to Congress that factored in the combatant commander requirements and a more detailed threat assessment – particularly in the Western Pacific. The NAVPLAN factors in the latest National Defense Strategy idea of “integrated deterrence,” partnering the Defense Department with other government agencies to compete with China and keep a military advantage over Russia as well as the emerging Joint Warfare Concept linking the services together in a conflict.

The NAVPLAN defines the overarching threats as the declining value of military deterrence, aggressive actions from the Chinese and Russians in contrast to international law and the speed of technological change.

Under that thought process, the 2045 fleet promotes ships with the flexibility to host higher-power weapon systems and sensors that can be quickly upgraded as technology changes.

“We will build future platforms with modernization in mind—hardware upgradeable and software updateable at the speed of innovation,” reads the report.
“We must build adequate space, weight, and power into our large long-life capital investments to support evolving sensors and weapons systems.”

The notional 2045 Navy calls for:

  • 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile nuclear submarines
  • 12 Aircraft carriers
  • 66 Submarines split between fast attack and large diameter payload boats
  • 96 Large surface combatants like the Arleigh Burke class destroyer and the emerging DDG(X) next-generation destroyer
  • 56 Constellation-class guided-missile frigates
  • 31 Large amphibious ships
  • 18 Light amphibious warships to support to Marine Littoral Regiments
  • 82 Combat logistics ships and auxiliaries
  • 150 large surface and subsurface unmanned vessels that will act as sensors and as auxiliary magazines to the manned fleet

USS Spruance (DDG-111) arrives at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) for a scheduled port visit as part of the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group on May 21, 2022. US Navy Photo

In aviation, the plan calls for a mix of 1,300 5th generation carrier aircraft with a family of Next Generation Air Dominance fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles, 900 “anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, to include helicopters and maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft” and 750 support aircraft.

The totals are a further tweak to the roughly 500-ship total Gilday said the service needed to meet its requirements during remarks at the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute earlier this year. The round number is also largely in line with the Trump administration’s fleet plan then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued late in 2020.

In line with a larger Defense Department drive, the Navy is crafting a concept of operations to conquer the vast distances in the Western Pacific with a network of sensors and shooters to find and attack targets. The Navy’s emerging Distributed Maritime Operations concept was refined last year during the Large Scale Exercise 2021. The idea for DMO is to have a fleet commander with direct operational control over several formations like a carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups to mass their power together over thousands of miles.

To keep the pace and cost of new ships to the fleet, the report doubles down on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget goals of cutting existing ships in the fleet, including aging Ticonderoga -class cruisers and relatively young Littoral Combat Ships. Removing both classes of ships from the fleet have been contentious in Congress, with legislators form both parties seeking to block the early retirements.

“The Navy must set a sustainable trajectory now to ensure we remain the combat-credible maritime force our nation needs in the future,” reads the report.
“Retiring legacy platforms that cannot stay relevant in contested seas—and investing in the capabilities we need for the future—is essential for our national security.”

Top Stories 2021: U.S. Navy Operations

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021. Naval operations this year once again saw the United States Navy balancing presence in multiple theaters, as the U.S. withdrew from the war in Afghanistan and continued emphasizing the Indo-Pacific region. In addition to a U.S. presence in the […]

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105), front, and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) transit the Pacific Ocean on June 13, 2021. US Navy Photo

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021.

Naval operations this year once again saw the United States Navy balancing presence in multiple theaters, as the U.S. withdrew from the war in Afghanistan and continued emphasizing the Indo-Pacific region.

In addition to a U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific, 2021 saw several U.S. allies send ships to operate in the region, giving American ships and crew the opportunity to drill with both European and regional allies.

While the U.S. Navy kept a steady warship presence in the Middle East, this year was the first in several in which the Navy did not have an aircraft carrier consistently operating in U.S. Central Command.

This year also saw the Navy’s first deployment of its new CMV-22B Osprey carrier onboard delivery aircraft and the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.

Meanwhile, the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine helped the service ease some of its pre-deployment restrictions on sailors and resume some normal aspects of deployments like port calls.

The Navy also continued to grapple with the fire that led it to scrap the former USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) and its pressing maintenance backlogs at the public shipyards.

Indo-Pacific

Sailors man the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) as the ship passes by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-70) while returning to Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., on May 25, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Navy kept a largely consistent carrier presence in the Indo-Pacific this year, as the new Biden administration sought to continue the prior administration’s emphasis on the region and China.

In its second deployment within a year, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) spent the first several months of 2021 operating throughout U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The aircraft carrier deployed at the end of last year with two of the escorts from its first deployment earlier in 2020.

 

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group in the South China Sea on April 9, 2021. US Navy Photo

In April, the TR Carrier Strike Group and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group drilled in the South China Sea amid heightened tensions between China and the Philippines. At the time, Chinese maritime militia vessels gathered near the Whitsun Reef off the coast of the Philippines, an incident the Pentagon voiced concern over at the time. Several months later, in June, the Philippines for the second time paused its plans to terminate part of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy ships performed transits through the Taiwan Strait at nearly monthly intervals for much of 2021, including multiple transits that received protests from Beijing. The repeated transits came amid increased concern in the U.S. over tensions between Taiwan and China, and as China on multiple occasions flew jets into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

The service also performed several freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea this year.

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) Airman Luis Correia, from Boston, pushes back an arresting gear cable after an EA-18G Growler attached to the ‘Shadowhawks’ of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 lands on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on May 21, 2021. US Navy Photo

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), the Navy’s Japan-based forward-deployed carrier, operated in the Indo-Pacific for part of its 2021 spring patrol before getting diverted to the Middle East.

Since August, the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group has been operating throughout Indo-Pacific Command, drilling with multiple countries’ navies, including the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21, the Germany Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.

The Vinson CSG deployment features the Navy’s most sophisticated air wing yet, with the first deployment of a combined air wing with the fifth-generation F-35C and the new CMV-22B Osprey.

Middle East

Sailor directs an aircraft on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) Jan. 24, 2021. US Navy Photo

This year began with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group operating in the North Arabian Sea for the end of its deployment. It was the second year in a row that started off with heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. After originally calling for the carrier to come home, the Pentagon – citing threats from Iran on the anniversary of the killing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Suleimani – kept USS Nimitz (CVN-68) operating in the region through the rest of January.

Shortly after Nimitz’s departure from the region at the end of January, the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group moved into the Persian Gulf and operated in Central Command until another aircraft carrier arrived on station in early April.

After operating in the Mediterranean, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group eventually took its place in U.S. Central Command. It was the second deployment within a year for Eisenhower and one of its escorts – USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) – and one of two so-called double-pump deployments for the Navy this year, showing the continued strain on the carrier force.

Sailors from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) hold US state flags on the bow of the carrier as it approaches Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on July 18, 2021. USNI News Photo

Eisenhower left for its deployment in February, allowing the Navy to offer its sailors the COVID-19 vaccine before they left Norfolk, Va. Around the same time, the service announced new guidance for sailors preparing for deployment to account for the availability of the vaccine. At the time, the Navy had been enforcing bubble methods and restriction-of-movement (ROM) sequesters to prevent sailors gearing up to deploy from catching COVID-19. But the February guidance allowed sailors who were fully vaccinated to remain at their own homes, instead of a hotel room or other housing, for the two weeks leading up to deployment.

IKE remained on station in the Middle East through the end of June, when the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group entered Central Command to relieve IKE and support the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was the first time the Navy’s Japan-based carrier operated in the Middle East since the former USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Over the summer, the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group also operated in Central Command to support the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

An MV-22B Osprey, attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (Reinforced), takes off from the flight deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) during routine flight operations on Aug. 25, 2021. US Navy Photo

After the withdrawal concluded at the end of August, Reagan left Central Command in mid-September, having operating in the Middle East for almost three months. Iwo Jima also left the region in September.

Since mid-September, the Essex Amphibious Ready Group has been operating in the Middle East.

Atlantic

USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) has detached from the strike group and began her transit home on October 19, 2021. Royal Navy Photo

This year saw the U.K.’s maiden deployment for its new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), which deployed with a multinational carrier strike group that included American destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) and Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805).

In May, the U.K.’s CSG 21 operated in the North Atlantic with the Iwo Jima ARG for an exercise that combined the U.K.’s Strike Warrior drills with the United States’ Ragnar Viking drills that included multiple NATO allies.

That same month, NATO allies participated in the first phase of Steadfast Defender 2021, which featured 11 NATO countries drilling in the Atlantic.

The Navy this year also performed its Large Scale Exercise 2021, a massive drill that spanned both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters to test out the service’s operating concepts across staffs and time zones around the globe. During the two-week exercise, USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) performed a fueling-at-sea test in the Atlantic with USS Gonzalez (DDG-66).

Maintenance

Screenshot of YouTube video from May 31, 2021 of the hull of Bonhomme Richard arriving in the Port of Brownsville, Texas.

The Navy continued to deal with the fallout from the July 2020 fire aboard the former USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), which was decommissioned earlier this year and sold for scraps to Texas-based International Shipbreaking LTD.

When the amphibious warship caught fire last July, it was was nearing the end of a maintenance period at Naval Base San Diego, where it was receiving upgrades to accommodate the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The Navy in July charged Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays, who was working aboard Bonhomme Richard at the time, with aggravated arson and hazarding a vessel. The sailor’s Article 32 hearing took place last week and U.S. 3rd Fleet commander Adm. Stephen Koehler will decide how to handle the charges.

A guided-missile cruiser in port for maintenance experienced its own fire in July. USS Gettysburg (CG-64) was at the BAE systems repair yard in Norfolk, Va., when a small fire broke out onboard. USNI News reported last year that ships undergoing maintenance phases are at a higher risk for fire damage due to ongoing hot work and welding.

In response to fires the service has experienced over the years, earlier this month Naval Sea Systems Command announced it had created the Industrial Fire Safety Assurance Group (IFSAG) to thwart future fires and harness better practices can be used both during maintenance phases and when building ships.

USS Connecticut (SSN-22) Sea Wolf-class nuclear attack submarine leaving San Diego, Calif., on Dec. 15, 2021. San Diego WebCam Photo

Meanwhile, the Navy hit another hurdle that is likely to affect its maintenance woes when Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN-722) struck an unmapped seamount in the South China Sea in October. The collision damaged the ballast tanks and the forward section of the boat, USNI News previously reported.

The submarine earlier this week reached its homeport in Bremerton, Wash., where it will be repaired. But the public shipyards already face a submarine maintenance backlog and the Navy’s acting assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition told Congress in October that fixing Connecticut at one of the public yards would affect the logjam of work.

“If we ended up doing [the Connecticut work] in one of the public shipyards that would certainly cause perturbations in all the other work in the shipyards,” Jay Stefany told the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee at the time.

The Navy’s ongoing maintenance backlog has caught the attention of lawmakers, who have expressed concern about the service’s 20-year timeline for the plan to modernize the public shipyards. In response to this concern, NAVSEA chief Vice Adm. Bill Galinis said earlier this year that his team was assessing the potential to speed up the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP) to a 10 and 15-year timeline.

Top Stories 2020: Marine Corps Operations

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 was a turning-point year for the Marine Corps. After previewing changes to come in his Commandant’s Planning Guidance released last year, Commandant Gen. David Berger released a Force Design 2030 document this year outlining major changes […]

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Austin McBain, a fire support specialist with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Information Group, monitors a radio during exercise Summer Fury 20 in Yuma, Ariz., on July 14, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020.

2020 was a turning-point year for the Marine Corps. After previewing changes to come in his Commandant’s Planning Guidance released last year, Commandant Gen. David Berger released a Force Design 2030 document this year outlining major changes in how the service would operate and equip itself. No longer would the Marine Corps be a service schlepping around tanks for sustained ground operations; rather, it would be light and mobile, using small ships to maneuver around islands and shorelines to attack an adversary from all angles and challenge their ability to track and target the small and on-the-move units.

And Berger didn’t stop at just releasing the plan: divestments are starting, new units are forming, wargames and exercises are reflecting new concepts of operations.

“In my professional opinion, we have to change. We have to move out now,” Berger told lawmakers recently.

Force Design 2030

U.S. Marines with Charlie Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – West, fire an M98A2 Javelin guided missile system during a field-fire demonstration as part of the Anti-Tank Missileman Course at Range 204B on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 22, 2020. ITB trains, develops and certifies Marines as riflemen, as well as their primary military occupational specialty within the infantry field, before sending them to join the Fleet Marine Force. US Marine Corps photo.

Berger released Force Design 2030 in March, laying out the first iteration of his vision of what the Marines needed to morph into to be successful in the future: a focus on maritime campaigning; close integration with the Navy, especially in sea control and sea denial missions; an emphasis on small units that could maneuver around islands and shorelines and bring with them logistics, anti-ship missiles, surveillance equipment, or whatever else the joint force needed dispersed throughout the battlespace.

In some ways, this vision was a culmination of everything the Marines had been working towards: many of the concepts relied on using the KC-130J on expeditionary runways and using the F-35B’s vertical takeoff and landing capabilities to get into remote areas. But in some ways it was wholly new: no longer would the Marines conducting these island-hopping missions start out aggregated on an amphibious warship, drop out the back of the well deck in a connector and then move ashore for operations; instead, the concept would rely on Marines on small ships that don’t exist today, such as a Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) that is habitable for the crew for longer durations of time but can also directly beach themselves to put Marines ashore.

The release of Force Design 2030 wasn’t the end of the effort, but rather the beginning of a massive wargaming, modeling and simulation, and live exercise bonanza that will stretch into next year.

U.S. Marines with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, traverse through water during an amphibious assault exercise, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, May 28, 2020. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, and Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, conducted an amphibious assault exercise and military operations in urban terrain to increase littoral mobility proficiency in 3d Marine Regiment and advance the goals of the Commandant of the Marine Corps 2030 Force Design. US Marine Corps photo.

So far, the first Marine Littoral Regiment was stood up in Hawaii to start experimenting with things like long-range ground-based anti-ship missiles, as well as either LAW prototypes or surrogates to start understanding what operations might look like with these new units and new capabilities. The service also entered into Phase III of the Force Design effort, described as a “campaign of learning approach” where teams will basically stress test the plan as it exists today by asking difficult questions of it and seeking answers through wargaming and experimentation. Much of this learning will culminate in a massive 2021 Large Scale Exercise that will involve multiple carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups and will focus on the new operating concepts: Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE), and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO).

Though much is still to be learned through the ongoing campaign of learning, Berger is sure enough that they’re heading in the right direction to call for a restructure of Marine forces in the Pacific, to spread out beyond hubs in Japan and South Korea. While deterring China in the Pacific is his main focus now, later experimentation may look at creating alternate unit formations better tailored to challenging Russia in the North Atlantic, for example.

Of course, this is all coming at a time when defense budgets are expected to be flat or declining, so Berger said all along that he’d create a plan that the Marine Corps could pay for within its current topline. To do so, the service has taken a “divest to invest” strategy, announcing that “by the year 2030, the Marine Corps will see complete divestments of Law Enforcement Battalions, Tank Battalions and associated Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), and all Bridging Companies. Additionally, the Corps will reduce the number of infantry battalions from 24 to 21; artillery cannon batteries from 21 to 5; amphibious vehicle companies from 6 to 4; and reduce tilt rotor, attack, and heavy lift squadrons.” A further review would be conducted to see if the aviation reductions – specifically, limiting F-35 squadrons to just 10 aircraft each instead of 16 – should lead to a reduction in the planned buy from contractor Lockheed Martin.

F-35 Operations

F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 and the 617 Squadron sit on the flight deck aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea on Oct. 6. 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was among the best examples this year of the Marines pivoting in stride and refocusing towards Berger’s vision. Though fielding the F-35B and C jets has been decades in the making for the Marine Corps, ongoing F-35B and nascent F-35C activities this year nested well into the priorities of Force Design.

After spending 2019 learning how to incorporate the vertical takeoff and landing F-35B into the Marines’ island-hopping EABO concept, they took it a step further this year: incorporating the carrier-based F-35C into those plans.

The Marines’ first F-35Cs began flowing into Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., in late January to support Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, the first squadron to transition to the next generation of carrier-based Marine aviation. In March the squadron was certified “safe for flight,” meaning they could train on their own without the supervision of the fleet replacement squadron, and earlier this month the squadron reached initial operational capability. Among the first things the squadron did after achieving IOC: demonstrating the ability to quickly rearm and refuel at expeditionary land bases, a centerpiece of EABO that will allow the Marines to stray far from their aircraft carriers and conduct stealthy missions on behalf of the joint force.

U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conduct a new expeditionary landing demonstration with M-31 arresting gear Interim Flight Clearance (IFC), on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Dec. 3, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

Noting an expected deployment in late 2021 aboard aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), Maj. Robert Ahern, a pilot with VMFA-314, explained the urgency of the expeditionary landing and refueling, saying that as early as next year “we may be called upon to execute expeditionary advanced base operations. We need to be able to do this. This is something that hasn’t been done yet with the F-35C.”

A second tenet of future military concepts that the Marines’ F-35 community has focused on this year is interoperability and close collaboration with allies. In September, the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 flew to the United Kingdom to begin training ahead of a joint deployment aboard aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). The U.S. Marines and their U.K. counterparts conducted a group exercise and participated in NATO exercise Joint Warrior off Scotland.

“With a total of 14 jets and eight Merlin helicopters, it’s the largest concentration of fighter jets to operate at sea from a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes in 1983, and the largest air group of fifth generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world,” the Royal Navy said at the time.

VMFA-211 will deploy with Queen Elizabeth in the spring.

Major Events

Recruits with Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, wait in line at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Sept. 22, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic – and the relative ease of blue-water navy exercises compared to the greater precautions needed for amphibious warfare and other ashore training drills – the Marines kept busy this year around the world.

Perhaps most challenging was the rotational deployment to Darwin, Australia, which was put on hold in March due to the growing pandemic.

In May, the service announced it would resume its annual rotational deployment after Australia agreed to grant an exemption to its COVID-19 travel restrictions. The Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) would involve about 1,200 Marines – just half the originally planned 2,500, due to COVID – who would train in the Northern Australia region. All were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Australia, with COVID tests being given at the beginning and at the end of the quarantine period.

Though a smaller group than originally planned, with no manned aviation assets deploying this year – but some unmanned aircraft for intelligence-gathering – the group worked with their Australian counterparts on increased interoperability in command-and-control, fire support coordination and aviation planning.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. David Reece, a joint terminal attack controller with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, looks over his notes during Exercise Iron Fist 2020 on San Clemente Island, California on Feb. 6, 2020. US Marine Corps Photo

Prior to the pandemic, the annual bilateral Iron Fist exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calif., took place in January and February to help improve the capability of Japan’s first Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which stood up in 2019 and will reach full capability next spring. About 310 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers came to California to operate off USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) and USS Portland (LPD-27), with an emphasis on infantry, amphibious assault vehicle, reconnaissance and medical training.

Japan established the ARDB to better position its self-defense forces to thwart off and defend incursions into its 3,000-plus islands — particularly in the southwest, including the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Later in the year, Marines out of California were involved in fighting historic wildfires up and down the West Coast. In September Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 deployed to support the aerial firefighting mission on the Slink Fire, which spread onto training areas of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center north of Yosemite National Park. Later in the month, 7th Engineer Support Battalion under 1st Marine Logistics Group at Camp Pendleton was trained for ground firefighting and divided into strike teams that would be paired with a corpsman and an experienced professional firefighter. The Marines ended up at the August Complex Fire, where they were given extra responsibilities such as protecting a helicopter landing pad from the encroaching fire.

Accidents and Safety

Marine Corps AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicle driver with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, drives an AAV-P7/A1 up the well deck ramp of the amphibious landing dock USS Somerset (LPD 25) during training to increase Navy-Marine Corps interoperability in the eastern Pacific on July 27, 2020. US Navy Photo

Eight Marines and a sailor died when their amphibious assault vehicle sank off the coast of California on July 31.

Fifteen Marines and a sailor from 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were aboard the AAV that had been training on San Clemente Island and then swam into the water to return to USS Somerset (LPD-25). They reported taking on water, and while eight Marines were recovered immediately – one of whom was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly afterwards – seven Marines and the sailor were still missing.

Submarine support ship HOS Dominator was brought in the next day to assist in the search and rescue, and the Marine Corps paused all AAV operations. By Aug. 2, the Marine Corps declared the missing men presumed dead and transitioned to a recovery operation.

The sunken AAV and human remains were located on Aug. 4 and recovered Aug. 8.

Two investigations were launched – a Naval Safety Center Investigation and a Command/Line of Duty Investigation – and Commandant Berger said at a recent hearing that the command investigation was nearing its conclusion but that it hadn’t reached his desk yet. Still, in October the commander of the battalion landing team was relieved of command.

A Marine KC-130 crash lands in California Sept. 29, 2020.

In Marine Corps aviation, a KC-130 and a F-35B collided in air on Sept. 29 during a mid-air refueling. The F-35B pilot safely ejected. In a feat of fantastic flying, the KC-130 pilot from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 352 lost two engines, had a potential fire onboard, had just partial control of the aircraft, and yet landed safely in a farm field and saved all Marines onboard.

An MV-22B Osprey belonging to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, was extensively damaged while parked at a general aviation airfield near the U.S.-Mexico border. While the aircraft was unattended, a skydiving plane rolled into it, damaging the left engine compartment, wing and landing gear and both propellers.

Marine MV-22B Osprey after being struck by a Twin Otter skydiving plane on May 30, 2020. City of San Diego Photo

In March, two Marine Raiders were killed in northern Iraq while supporting Iraqi Security Forces in the fight against ISIS.

In July, an early morning shooting at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., temporarily locked down the training grounds. After investigating, police determined a Marine died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.