Senators Call on SECNAV to Deliver Amphibious Ship Requirements Study to Congress

Two lawmakers overseeing the Navy are calling on the service’s secretary to deliver an overdue study about its amphibious fleet. In a letter sent on Monday to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked for an update on the amphibious ship requirements study. “During your annual force posture […]

Amphibious warship Richard M. McCool, Jr., (LPD-29) on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

Two lawmakers overseeing the Navy are calling on the service’s secretary to deliver an overdue study about its amphibious fleet.

In a letter sent on Monday to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked for an update on the amphibious ship requirements study.

“During your annual force posture hearing in May, we asked about the status of a study you commissioned to analyze the number of amphibious ships needed in our Navy fleet. You told us that the study would be released ‘in the next several weeks.’ It has now been over five months since that hearing, yet the results of the study still have not been provided to either of us,” the senators wrote to Del Toro.

“We strongly urge you to provide the unredacted, unedited results of the study without further delay. If the study is still incomplete, please provide a reason as to why it is incomplete, whether you need any additional resources to complete the study, and when you expect it to be completed, as well as the results upon completion,” they continued.

The Navy did not respond to a request for comment when asked about the letter and the status of the study.

Marine Corps officials have maintained that the Navy needs a minimum of 31 large amphibious ships – 10 big-deck LHAs and 21 LSDs or LPDs – to meet its missions. In mid-February, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told reporters that the service was 30 to 45 days away from finishing the study that would ultimately go to Del Toro.

“If it’s anything like the previous studies – we’ve had I think 12 studies in the last 13 years – every one of them came out about 31 amphib ships,” Berger said at the time. “So I don’t know what this one will come to, but I can’t see it radically different from that. That’s requirements. That’s our Marine Corps requirement. That’s maybe different from what the nation can afford.”

The analysis is meant to assess both the requirements for large amphibious ships and the Light Amphibious Warship, a smaller ship the Marine Corps wants to shuttler smaller units of Marines around islands in the Pacific.

“Amphibious warships are a crucial element of our fleet forces in the Pacific, as they bring unique sea-to-shore capabilities to the fight. Failure to provide and maintain a credible naval deterrent today could mean global catastrophe tomorrow,” Kaine and Wicker wrote in the letter.

Over the last year, the Navy and the Marine Corps have been on different pages when it comes to the amphibious fleet. In the Fiscal Year 2023 budget rollout, the Navy planned to end the LPD-17 Flight II line after buying LPD-32. Marine Corps officials sounded the alarm over the decision, with Berger placing LPD-33 at the top of his annual unfunded priorities list. While the amphibious ships are crucial for the Marine Corps missions, the funding to buy them comes out of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.

The Marine Corps’ concerns over the LPD line ending – in addition to the Navy’s proposal to decommission four Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships – led both House and Senate authorizers to include language in their versions of the FY 2023 policy bill mandating the Navy have a minimum of 31 large amphibious ships.

Eastern Shipbuilding Withdraws Coast Guard OPC GAO Protest, Will Pursue ‘Different Legal Pathway’

Eastern Shipbuilding Group withdrew a protest to a June Coast Guard contract award for the second phase of the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter program on Tuesday in preparation for a different challenge in federal court, USNI News has learned. On Tuesday, Eastern withdrew its protest to the Government Accountability Office for the Coast Guard’s $208.26 […]

USCGC Argus (WMSM-915). Eastern Shipbuilding Group Photo

Eastern Shipbuilding Group withdrew a protest to a June Coast Guard contract award for the second phase of the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter program on Tuesday in preparation for a different challenge in federal court, USNI News has learned.

On Tuesday, Eastern withdrew its protest to the Government Accountability Office for the Coast Guard’s $208.26 million award to Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., for the second phase of the Heritage-class OPC program, an Eastern spokeswoman confirmed to USNI News in a statement. The contract had the potential to be worth up to $3.3 billion.

“The federal procurement process is designed to be fair and transparent. Ordinarily, the government discloses reasonable justification for its award decisions to the attorneys representing the parties in a protest. The government has declined to voluntarily disclose the information that might offer that justification. As a result, we are seeking the information and justification through a different legal pathway,” Eastern president Joey D’Isernia said in a Wednesday statement provided to USNI News.

While Eastern did not provide additional details, USNI News understands the Panama City, Fla., shipbuilder will continue to pursue the protest in federal court. Among Eastern’s grounds for the now withdrawn GAO protest included Austal having access to leaked pricing information and Austal employing a former Coast Guard officer who would have non-public information on the OPC program.

Questions on pending litigation sent to the Coast Guard by USNI News were acknowledged, but the service did not immediately provide a response.

The Coast Guard did send USNI News a release saying Austal USA was clear to begin the work on the OPCs.

“The Coast Guard today issued a notice to Austal USA, the offshore patrol cutter (OPC) Stage 2 contractor, to proceed on detail design work to support future production of OPCs. The Coast Guard issued the notice following the withdrawal of an award protest filed in July with the Government Accountability Office by an unsuccessful Stage 2 offeror,” according to the Wednesday statement from the service.
“The Coast Guard on June 30, 2022, awarded a fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract through a full and open competition to Austal USA to produce up to 11 offshore patrol cutters.

The $208.26 million June award supports the detailed design and long lead-time material for the fifth OPC, with options for the production of up to 11 OPCs in total.

A spokesperson from Austal acknowledged a request for more information on the withdrawal from USNI News on Wednesday evening but did not immediately provide a response.

Eastern initially won the OPC award in 2014 but has not met production schedules for the cutter in large part due to yard damage the yard suffered during a 2018 hurricane. Eastern is under contract to build the first four OPCs.

The OPC award to Austal — known for building the aluminum ships like the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships — is one of the first for its new steel line. Austal is currently building the Navy’s T-ATS Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ships, USNI News saw during an Austal visit to the Mobile yard.

The service wants to buy 25 of the 4,250-ton OPCs that will serve as the future core of the Coast Guard’s cutter fleet replacement to its fleet of 29 Famous and Reliance classes of medium endurance cutters.

Marine Corps, Navy Remain Split Over Design, Number of Future Light Amphibious Warship, Divide Risks Stalling Program

The Marine Corps and Navy remain at an impasse over the future of the Light Amphibious Warship, as skepticism about the program’s viability mounts due to the internal division, sources familiar with the program have told USNI News. While the Marines remain committed to their plan for nearly three-dozen beachable ships that can ferry units […]

Sea Transport Solutions Image

The Marine Corps and Navy remain at an impasse over the future of the Light Amphibious Warship, as skepticism about the program’s viability mounts due to the internal division, sources familiar with the program have told USNI News.

While the Marines remain committed to their plan for nearly three-dozen beachable ships that can ferry units between islands and shorelines in the Pacific, the Navy wants fewer. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s 2022 navigation plan, unveiled in late July, calls for 18 LAWs.

“It’s obviously a big battle within the Marine Corps on where the Marine Corps’s headed and whether the Navy really supports LAW or not,” said one person familiar with the discussions on LAW.

But as recently as last week, the Marine Corps said it wants as many as 35 LAWs to achieve its vision for operations in the Indo-Pacific, which would include smaller units moving between islands and setting up ad-hoc bases from where they could fire anti-ship missiles off of the chassis of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

“The Light Amphibious Warship is absolutely required – up to 35 of them. Those vessels enable the three [Marine] Littoral Regiments in the Pacific to move tonight, to immediately move to strategic chokepoints and strategic locations throughout the battlespace before the action begins in order to conduct sea denial as part of distributed maritime operations,” Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith said last week at Defense News’ annual conference.

The disconnect between the two services on LAW comes after a contentious budget cycle in which the Navy and Marine Corps presented two different views on the future of larger amphibious ships. The most recent Fiscal Year 2023 submission also delayed the purchase of the first LAW out from that fiscal year to FY 2025, a move Marine Corps officials have repeatedly argued is a risky one for the service and its strategy in the Pacific.

“That risk gets passed onto combatant commanders. So when you don’t have that Light Amphibious Warship for an additional year, that risk is absorbed by the combatant commander and the execution of [operational] plans,” Smith said last week.

The division between the two services largely comes down to survivability, or what types of weapons and armors to place on a ship that would operate in the first island chain, within range of Chinese missiles.

Adding more weapons and armor to LAW makes the ship more expensive. Projections in 2020 called for each LAW to cost $100 million, a number described as unrealistic by the person familiar with program discussions. Now the Marine Corps wants the ship to cost around $150 million a piece so it can buy more of them, while the Navy is pushing for a more survivable ship that would end up costing about $300 million each.

Landing ship under construction at Halter Marine Aug. 5, 2022. USNI News Photo

The diverging views on costs may be driving the different numbers of LAWs the Navy and Marine Corps each say is required, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“At the higher level you’ve got a lot of disagreement and even just outright skepticism that we’re even going to pursue the program. You’ve got a lot of people working on what should this ship look like, what capabilities should it have, how much should it cost, how many might we buy, how will we use it,” Clark told USNI News.

“At the lower levels, you’ve got a lot of activity, a lot of the normal activity. And then at the higher levels I think there’s a lot of people who just feel like this is never going to happen, that the Navy and Marine Corps are not really going to reconcile their competing visions of the program and the financial constraints on the shipbuilding budget are going to keep it from ever achieving launch,” he continued.

Work on the program continues with a requirements evaluation team. The Navy last year issued five companies – Fincantieri, Austal USA, Halter Marine, Bollinger and TAI Engineers – concept design contracts. Austal USA has published a rendering of its LAW design and Halter Marine already builds LSTs – or Landing Ship, Tanks – which are beachable and can carry Marines and equipment.

Part of the debate over the survivability and affordability of LAW may have to do with concerns over past troubled programs like the Littoral Combat Ship, which was not designed to operate in highly contested environments.

“It’s just two competing visions for what that ship does and I think the Navy is unlikely to budge on it because when it comes down to it, they’re responsible for the ship,” Clark said of LAW. “And they’ve been burned before with LCS when they tried to build a ship that was less survivable than its predecessors.”

Dakota Wood, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a retired Marine, said the survivability and affordability questions may show different risk assessments between the two services.

“It would reveal the two different perspectives on risk. You put a Marine unit on the ground, they have to engage with an enemy in close combat. I mean, you just have to do that. And so there is a service culture that says we’re going to assess the risk. We’re going to do everything we can to mitigate that risk – to lessen it – but you cannot eliminate it and it just comes with the territory of ground combat that you are going to lose people,” Wood said.

“On the Navy side, they have a relatively small number of ships – and relative meaning relative to task, the size of the world, how many ships you have in the water and all that stuff – so each one of those things represents a fairly significant percentage of naval power,” he continued. “You lose a ship, it’s a billion dollar plus investment, all the sailors aboard that ship. And so the Navy hasn’t had to operate truly in a threat environment for a very long time.”

While the services work out their differences over LAW, the Marine Corps is using a leased stern landing vessel to experiment with how it could use the platform. Smith said the Marine Corps is leasing one and has a contract that could increase that number to two or three vessels.

USNS Carson City (T-EPF- ) entering the Black Sea on Aug. 15, 2018. Photo by Yörük Işık used with permission

“What we expect from them is how’s the load out? What is your ability to move from point A to Point B? What is your ability to hide yourself electromagnetically and physically? How quickly can you onload and offload?” Smith proposed as questions to ask the Marines experimenting with the leased stern landing vessel. “What do you do to connect fuel when you need fuel from a different source – KC-130 putting fuel in? What did you forget to bring with you? What did your supply chain look like? And can you use that vessel to both support you for organic mobility and can it be used for periods of time to support the joint force logistically?”

The Navy has also pitched the LCS, which has frequently deployed to the Western Pacific, as an option to move Marines around the region to conduct Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations. Clark said the Expeditionary Fast Transport, or EPF, the Landing Craft Utility and used Army watercraft could also fulfill some of the missions the Marine Corps envisions for LAW.

“You’re already hearing out of III [Marine Expeditionary Force] and out of [Marine Corps Combat Development Command] the fact that they’re looking at alternative platforms and theoretically this is designed to inform the lAW effort, but it might also identify ways that you would be able to do this without necessarily having the dedicated LAW” program, Clark said.

Senate FY 2023 Appropriations Bill Adds $4B to Navy Shipbuilding, Money for New Amphibs

The Senate Appropriations Committee included advanced procurement dollars for two new amphibious warships as part of a $32 billion shipbuilding budget, according to the defense subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill released on Thursday. The FY 2023 bill shipbuilding and conversion portion appropriates $250 million in advanced procurement for a new San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious […]

The future USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD 28) departed Huntington Ingalls Shipyard to conduct Acceptance Trials in the Gulf of Mexico. US Navy Photo

The Senate Appropriations Committee included advanced procurement dollars for two new amphibious warships as part of a $32 billion shipbuilding budget, according to the defense subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill released on Thursday.

The FY 2023 bill shipbuilding and conversion portion appropriates $250 million in advanced procurement for a new San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious transport dock and $289 million more than the Navy’s initial $1.08 billion requested funds for the next America-class big-deck amphibious warship, LHA-10, according to the bill’s explanatory statement.

The advanced procurement for what would be LPD-33 extends the San Antonio line beyond where the Navy sought to end the class at LPD-32. In his unfunded request to Congress for the Marine Corps budget, Commandant Gen. David Berger asked for the advanced procurement for LPD-33 as his number one priority.

In line with the Senate and House authorization bills released, the bill puts $6.9 billion toward the purchase of three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers (DDG-51), $4.5 billion for two Virginia-class nuclear attack boats (SSN-774), $1.13 billion for a Constellation-class frigate (FFG-62) and $1.6 billion for a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. The bill also added $645 million for two ambulance variants of the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport ship and funds for three additional Ship-to-Shore Connectors over the Navy’s request for one, for a total of $264 million.

The committee also directed the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report on Fiscal Year 2024 domestic shipbuilder suppliers, “identifying critical components that are available from only one or a few suppliers in the United States; and, providing recommendations to expand productive capacity in the United States,” reads the explanatory language with the bill.

The committee’s bill also appropriates $1.96 billion for 16 carrier-capable F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters for the Navy and Marines – three more than the Navy requested. The bill added funds for 18 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps – three more than the Marines requested. The bill also added five V-22s for $619 million and no money for additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The Navy did not ask for any Super Hornets in the budget request because the service wants to end the line.

The topline for the total bill was $792.1 billion – a$32 billion increase in the topline as part of the FY 2023 request.

Eastern Shipbuilding Protests Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter Award to Austal USA

The shipyard first tapped to build what the Coast Guard considers its most important shipbuilding program is contesting the service’s decision to change yards with a formal protest to the Government Accountability Office, company officials told USNI News. Eastern Shipbuilding Group filed the GAO protest following the late June $208.26 million award to Austal USA […]

Heritage-class cutter under construction. Eastern Shipbuilding Group Photo

The shipyard first tapped to build what the Coast Guard considers its most important shipbuilding program is contesting the service’s decision to change yards with a formal protest to the Government Accountability Office, company officials told USNI News.

Eastern Shipbuilding Group filed the GAO protest following the late June $208.26 million award to Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., to build the future Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutters. The Coast Guard decided to recompete the program in 2019 after Eastern failed to meet production schedules due in part to damage the yard suffered during a 2018 hurricane. Eastern is under contract to build the first four cutters.

Austal is best known for aluminum ship construction – building the Navy’s Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships and Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transports. The OPC cutters would be the first on Austal’s new steel ship line.

In its protest, reviewed by USNI News, Eastern says Austal overstated its ability to produce the OPC and that the Coast Guard did not follow its own criteria in awarding the Mobile yard the potential $3.3 billion contract for 11 of the OPCs – the fifth through the eleventh in the class. The complaint also alleged Austal had an unfair competitive advantage due to leaked pricing information and that the Mobile yard employed a former Coast Guard officer who would have non-public information on the OPC program.

“Our decision to protest does not come lightly. Our community is left reeling from the decision to abandon our workforce and move the Coast Guard’s largest acquisition program from our successful production line to a high-risk situation,” Eastern spokesperson Jessica Ditto told USNI News in a Thursday statement.
“While this process plays out, we remain committed to our USCG partners and delivering shipbuilding excellence on the first four hulls.”

The Coast Guard is slated to purchase 25 of the OPCs as a replacement to its fleet of 29 Famous and Reliance classes of medium endurance cutters. The 4,250-ton Heritage-class cutters will be the backbone of the Coast Guard’s fleet, former Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said earlier this year.

Austal said in a Wednesday statement to USNI News, “we are confident in the integrity of the solicitation process and that the United States Coast Guard’s selection of Austal USA as the Stage II OPC shipbuilder will be upheld. We will remain focused on delivering world-class ships to our customers.”

HII’s Ingalls shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., also submitted a bid for the OPC contract as a follow on to its Legend-class National Security Cutter work.

The Coast Guard acknowledged a request for comment from USNI News but did not immediately provide a response.

Prior to the OPC work, Eastern had been a commercial shipbuilder known for building offshore oil and industry vessels and tugs. The OPC award is the company’s first federal contract.

Competitors HII and VT Halter Marine protested Eastern’s initial 2014 award for the Heritage-class OPCs at the time. The GAO upheld Eastern’s initial award, USNI News reported.

New Navy Fleet Study Calls for 373 Ship Battle Force, Details are Classified

THE PENTAGON – The Navy quietly slipped a new, classified assessment on the number of ships the service needs to meet its missions around the world to Congress earlier this month. The report calls for a battle force of 373 ships – 75 more than in the current fleet. Dubbed the Battle Force Ship Assessment […]

Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), left, conducts a replenishment-at-sea with Supply-class fast combat support ship USNS Supply (T-AOE-6), in the Ionian Sea on May 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON – The Navy quietly slipped a new, classified assessment on the number of ships the service needs to meet its missions around the world to Congress earlier this month. The report calls for a battle force of 373 ships – 75 more than in the current fleet.

Dubbed the Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement, the Fiscal Year 2021 defense authorization bill called for the Navy to generate the report and deliver it directly to Congress.

“The Navy’s Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement (BFSAR) report determined that a battle force of 373 ships is required to meet future campaigning and warfighting demands. The report is classified and was submitted to Congress,” reads a statement from the service provided to USNI News.

Outside of the fleet total, the service did not provide an unclassified summary of the force structure. In prior years, the FSA has included an unclassified summary of the the required quantities for each type of battleforce ship in the fleet.

The new report is the latest in a long string of force structure reviews since 2016 as the service and big Pentagon have wrestled with the composition of the future fleet.

The requirement in the bill was designed to have the report bypass the Office of the Secretary of Defense and go directly to Congress, several legislative sources have told USNI News. OSD took a more active role in crafting the Navy’s force structure under former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and senior leadership has continued to be involved in the force structure process.

In February, the Navy rolled out a long-range shipbuilding plan that laid out three different versions of a battle force into 2052, depending on the number of resources the service is allocated. The first option would yield an inventory of 316 ships by FY 2052, the second would yield 327 ships by FY 2052 and the third would yield 367 ships.

Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday speaking on Jan. 11, 2022 from his office in the Pentagon. US Navy Photo

Those would be buttressed by emerging unmanned platforms that would extend the range of the Navy’s sensors and deepen magazines beyond its manned ships and submarines.

With those additions, the fleet could grow to 500 hulls or more, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said ahead of the long-range ship rollout in remarks during the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute.

The most recent review follows the latest revision of the National Defense Strategy, which refines the Pentagon’s approach to countering China in the Pacific and Russia in Europe. Much of the detail of the updated NDS is classified, with the Office of the Secretary of Defense releasing a scant two-page summary of the overall goals.

The force structure will go through more tweaks before another revision is released later this year.

“The Navy is expected to complete a second BFSAR later this year, which will reflect new analytic work, changes to force design, and the impacts of the 2022 National Defense Strategy released in March on future Navy battle force structure,” reads the Navy statement.

Coast Guard Issues Austal USA Contract Worth up to $3.3B for Offshore Patrol Cutter

The Coast Guard has issued Austal USA contract work up to $3.3 billion to build the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter, the company announced on Thursday.While the initial award is for $208.26 million, the contract has options for as many as 11 OPCs that Austal will build at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard’s new steel production line. […]

An artist’s conception of Eastern Shipbuilding’s Offshore Patrol Cutter design.

The Coast Guard has issued Austal USA contract work up to $3.3 billion to build the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter, the company announced on Thursday.While the initial award is for $208.26 million, the contract has options for as many as 11 OPCs that Austal will build at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard’s new steel production line.

“Austal USA will construct the OPC using its proven ship manufacturing processes and innovative production methods that incorporate lean manufacturing principles, modular construction, and moving assembly lines in the company’s new state-of-the-art enclosed steel production facility,” the company said in a news release.

With eyes on the OPC contract in addition to the Marine Corps’ Light Amphibious Warship (LAW), Austal broke ground on its new steel facility last March.

“This contract award is the result of our continued investment in our people and our facilities. We are honored the Coast Guard has selected our team of shipbuilders to deliver its most important acquisition program,” Rusty Murdaugh, the president of Austal USA, said in the news release. “We are also thrilled for our community and our tremendous supplier base as this program will provide our shipbuilding team the backlog and stability for continued growth.”

The award comes after the Coast Guard in 2019 decided to recompete the OPC contract due to delays at Eastern Shipbuilding Group, which had difficulty meeting its contract obligations following damage the Panama City, Fla., yard suffered in 2018 from Hurricane Michael, USNI News reported at the time. Eastern Shipbuilding is on contract to build the first four OPCs.

HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., which builds the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, also bid for the OPC recompete.

HII entered this competition with a solid commitment to support our Coast Guard partners in building this important part of their fleet. Although we are very disappointed in the Offshore Patrol Cutter stage 2 decision, we remain committed to serving the Coast Guard on the National Security Cutters we are currently building, and look forward to opportunities to support this valued customer in the future,” Kimberly Aguillard, a spokesperson for Ingalls, said in a statement. “As demonstrated by our recent launch and recovery of an [Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle] with Pharos in Pascagoula River, HII and Ingalls Shipbuilding are hyper focused on growing and continuing to innovate and demonstrate capabilities in support of our customers.”

The Coast Guard is slated to buy 25 Heritage-class OPCs for its program of record, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The new OPCs will replace the Reliance-class and Famous-class Medium Endurance Cutters.

HASC Seapower Mark Saves 5 Ships, Backs Marine Corps Call for 31 Amphibs

The House Armed Services Committee will prevent the Navy from retiring five ships from the fleet and supports the Marine Corps’ call for 31 amphibious warships, according to a summary of the seapower and projection forces subcommittee’s mark of the House’s defense policy bill. The measures in the mark, which reflect the consensus of the […]

USS Vicksburg (CG-69) getting repaired at BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Va., on April 8, 2022. Christopher P. Cavas Photo used with permission

The House Armed Services Committee will prevent the Navy from retiring five ships from the fleet and supports the Marine Corps’ call for 31 amphibious warships, according to a summary of the seapower and projection forces subcommittee’s mark of the House’s defense policy bill.

The measures in the mark, which reflect the consensus of the HASC, support a call from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger to set a minimum level for U.S. amphibious forces and keeps four Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships (LSDs) in the fleet – USS Germantown (LSD-42), USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), USS Tortuga (LSD-46) and USS Ashland (LSD-48).

“There’s strong support for the commandant of the Marine Corps assessment that he needs no fewer than 31 amphibious ships,” a committee staffer told reporters on Monday.
“Prohibiting retirement of the LSDs certainly gets after that plan for that program.”

The mark will require the Secretary of the Navy to consult with the Marine commandant over the size of the amphibious fleet.

In addition, the mark prevents the committee from losing guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG-69). Vicksburg and the LSDs were part of 24 ships marked by the Navy for decommission over the next five years.

“The Navy’s provided testimony to the committee that they’re about 85 percent complete on the Vicksburg. We’re well on our way to making major investments into the Vicksburg and also it’s one of the younger cruisers proposed for retirement. The others [that] were proposed, were in accordance with their normal cycle,” a committee staffer told reporters on Monday.

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Rein.), flies over the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24) on May 3, 2022. US Navy Photo

Last month, Navy officials told Congress that the service has spent about $300 million per hull to modernize Vicksburg and Tortuga.

The pending legislation supports the Marines’ number one unfunded priority for an additional San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious warship in the next fiscal year.

“[The mark] recommends to the full committee an additional $250 million in advanced procurement toward an LPD. That will be procured in fiscal year 2024,” a staffer said.

The mark is set to authorize a 15-ship multi-year Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer buy. USNI News reported the move last month.

The mark also “directs the maritime administrator to carry out a program to complete the design and construction and United States ship yards of up to 10 sealift vessels for use in the National Defense reserve fleet,” a staffer told USNI News.

Not contained in the subcommittee mark is the fate of the nine Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships the Navy asked to decommission well ahead of their expected service lives.

The Navy said in its budget request that the cost of correcting a class-wide propulsion issue and the failure of an anti-submarine warfare mission package required the ships to leave the fleet.

“There’s a lot of member interest and that will be addressed at full committee,” a staffer said.

Meanwhile, the HASC strategic forces subcommittee wants to mandate the Defense Secretary give lawmakers “a comprehensive strategy to use asymmetric capabilities to defeat hypersonic missile threats,” according to text of the panel’s mark.

The mark also calls for an evaluation of Guam’s integrated air and missile defense. Within two months of the Fiscal Year 2023 defense policy bill becoming law, the Secretary of Defense must ink a contract “with a federally funded research and development center to conduct an independent assessment” of the capabilities needed to defend Guam.

The subcommittees will mark up their respective bills this week and the full committee is slated to take up the legislation later this month.

House Bill Backs Marines’ 31 Amphibious Ship Requirement, Over Navy’s 25 Ship Level

Two members in Congress have heard the Marines’ call for more amphibious warships and issued a House bill that would cement their level at 31, according to language reviewed by USNI News. Put forth by House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee chair Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), […]

The future USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD 28) departed Huntington Ingalls Shipyard to conduct Acceptance Trials in the Gulf of Mexico. US Navy Photo

Two members in Congress have heard the Marines’ call for more amphibious warships and issued a House bill that would cement their level at 31, according to language reviewed by USNI News.

Put forth by House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee chair Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the bill pushes back against the Navy’s budget request that would end the San Antonio-class amphibious warship line and bring the total number of amphibs down to 25.

“The amphibious warfare ship force structure of the Navy must be maintained at 31, composed of 10 amphibious assault ships general-purpose and multi-purpose, and 21 amphibious transport dock types, in order to meet global commitments,” reads the bill.

The bill follows a letter Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger sent in response to an inquiry about amphibious ship requirements from Wittman and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). Berger outlined the service’s requirement for larger amphibious warships – known as L-class ships – and the proposed Light Amphibious Warship.

The debate over the number of amphibious ships follows the continued refinement of the Marines’ Force Design 2030, which has changed how the service would fight in the future on a distributed battlefield against a sophisticated adversary. The service is adding Marine Littoral Regiments that would hop from island to island, creating ad hoc sensor nodes and targeting maritime nodes with the smaller Light Amphibious Warships. But the Marine Corps has said it would also keep traditional Marine roles that require the larger ships.

“Since 2019, four Department of the Navy studies, including the ongoing Amphibious Force Requirement Study (AFRS) sponsored by the Secretary of the Navy, have examined amphibious ship force structure requirements. With slight variations, each found that an inventory of between 31 [to] 28 L-class ships and up to 35 LAW are necessary for naval forces to sustain consistent forward-deployed campaigning objectives and reliably react to unforeseen contingencies,” Berger wrote in the letter, which was reviewed by USNI News.
“However, combining these findings with readiness trends over the past 10 years and projected ship availability rates demonstrates the need for no less than 31 traditional L-class ships to ensure the warfighting readiness and responsiveness of amphibious naval forces.”

The latest long-range shipbuilding plan calls for dropping the total to 25 within the next five years. Additionally, the Navy is set to sundown the San Antonio-class amphibs, as outlined in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget submission.

“The funding profile in the President’s budget submission essentially cancels the LPD program following the procurement of LPD-32 in FY23, a program originally planned to procure through LPD-42,” Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, told USNI News in April.

Following the introduction of the 2016 Force Structure Assessment from the Navy, Congress passed a law requiring the service achieve a 355-ship fleet.

Marines Couldn’t Meet Request to Surge to Europe Due to Strain on Amphibious Fleet

As Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, the head of U.S. European Command asked for a Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Ready Group to deploy early to Europe as a hedge against the conflict expanding. But the Marine Corps couldn’t meet the request, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, told […]

A landing craft, air cushion, attached to Assault Craft Unit 4, disembarks the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), during a Marine Expeditionary Unit off-load in support of a bilateral training event in Tromsø, Norway, April 12, 2022. US Navy Photo

As Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, the head of U.S. European Command asked for a Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Ready Group to deploy early to Europe as a hedge against the conflict expanding.

But the Marine Corps couldn’t meet the request, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, told the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee today.

Asked how important it is for the Marine Corps to receive advanced procurement funding for an amphibious warship the service recently billed as its top unfunded priority for the upcoming fiscal year, Heckl pointed to the recent scenario.

“Within force design is our ongoing requirement as a Marine Corps and by law to be the crisis response force for the nation. Without those LPDs, sir, and the other amphibious traditional L-class amphibious warships, we cannot be there. And we’re already struggling now. And the case and point was the 22nd Marine Expeditionary unit off the East Coast,” Heckl told Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), the ranking member of the subcommittee.

According to Heckl, U.S. European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters asked that the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group “sortie early to be on station as the Ukrainian situation evolved, or devolved. And we were not able to sortie the ship[s].”

“The way we’ve typically conducted heel-to-toe deployments, the MEU should have been on station and available for combatant commander tasking and it was not,” Heckl said.

The Navy currently has 31 active amphibious ships – which is the Marine Corps’ current requirement – in the fleet, according to the Naval Vessel Register. The total number of amphibious warships is set to drop to 24 by FY 2024, according to the long-range shipbuilding plan the Navy released last week.

Two ships in the Kearsarge ARG – landing helicopter dock USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) and amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24) – deployed with the 22nd MEU embarked on March 16, nearly a month after Russia officially invaded Ukraine. USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), the third ship in the ARG, left Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., on March 28 to deploy with the ARG.

The Marine Corps maintains that it needs 31 large amphibious ships – 10 big-deck LHAs or LHDs and 21 LSDs or LPDs – to meet its missions. But the FY 2023 budget request showed a division between the Marine Corps and Navy over amphibious ship requirements.

The Navy’s proposal wants to end the LPD Flight 17 II line early, with the service buying LPD-32 as the last ship in FY 2023. But the Marine Corps put $250 million in advanced procurement funding for LPD-33 – a ship the Navy does not plan to buy – at the top of its annual wishlist to Congress.

Heckl told USNI News in an interview late last month that the plans to end the LPD line, in addition to the Navy’s push to retire four Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships in the FY 2023, would bring the amphibious ship inventory down to 25 ships in the next five years.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Jay Stefany, who is currently performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said the Navy’s amphibious ship requirements study just finished. The briefing process is ongoing, Stefany said, and the results will feed into the Navy’s new Force Structure Assessment that will pair with the new National Defense Strategy.