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.

Congress May Reject Navy’s Proposal to End LPD-17 Flight II Line, Lawmakers Say

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Congress may reject the Navy’s proposal to end the San Antonio-class amphibious warship production line in the upcoming fiscal year, two lawmakers said today. House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said today that they think Congress will […]

USS San Diego (LPD-22) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) conduct routine operations in the eastern Pacific on April 7, 2020. US Navy Photo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Congress may reject the Navy’s proposal to end the San Antonio-class amphibious warship production line in the upcoming fiscal year, two lawmakers said today.

House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said today that they think Congress will alter the Navy’s plans to end the LPD-17 Flight II production in Fiscal Year 2023.

Both lawmakers said Congress should meet the Marine Corps’ top unfunded priority, which is $250 million in advanced procurement money for LPD-33.

“I think the LPD advanced procurement request – which came in from the Marine Corps – I think Gen. Berger and Gen. Heckl have made a really powerful argument to all of us … and I think that’s one of those items that’s going to change,” Courtney said, referring to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl.

Last week, the Navy in its FY 2023 budget request proposed ending the LPD-17 Flight II line with LPD-32, but the Marine Corps put advanced procurement funding for LPD-33 at the top of its annual wish list to Congress. Funding for those ships comes out of the Navy’s shipbuilding account and the request shows a division between the Navy and Marine Corps over the future of the amphibious fleet.

Both Courtney and Wittman agreed that the Navy’s other amphibious warship request – LHA-9 – in the FY 2023 budget does not count because Congress already authorized and appropriated money for the amphibious assault ship. A senior congressional source told USNI News last week that the HASC would not count LHA-9 in the battleforce ship request, meaning the panel views the Navy’s proposal as seeking eight ships in FY 2023, not nine.

Wittman argued the Navy needs to buy both the larger amphibious ships like LPDs and the smaller Light Amphibious Warship the Marine Corps wants to shuttle Marines around islands and shorelines in the Western Pacific.

“I think we need to build both. You need LPD. You need to do advanced procurement on LPD-33, now .Get that done. Remember, the LAWs … [are] different than a large lift vessel. It is not an LPD. These are intra-theater connectors and what the Marines are going to need to move around,” Wittman said.

“Those are the connectors that we need for the future. We have things like Ship-to-Shore connectors now, [Expeditionary Fight Vehicles]. That’s not what these things are. These things do that intermediate element to where the large amphibious ships cannot operate, with a lot more effectiveness. And then when you deploy, you can now distribute your risk across the theater. You can create some uncertainty for your adversary. You can’t do that with just one or the other. You have to be able to use both.”

Courtney said Marine Corps leadership has made a “convincing case” for the LPD mission and voiced concern about how ending the LPD production line could affect the shipbuilding workforce and supply chain.

Asked about the Navy’s proposal to delay buying the Light Amphibious Warship, Wittman argued the ship is necessary for the Marine Corps to execute its mission in the Western Pacific. The Marines say they would use LAW to lands Marines ashore on islands in the region where they could then set up ad-hoc based, fire anti-ship missiles and create chaos for an adversary like the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

“The delay in getting LAWs operational is going to create a challenge for the Marine Corps in order to be bale to operate in the distributed way that they envision in the Indo-Pacifc. And if they are going to have the ability to impose a level of uncertainty, a level of risk on the Chinese, they have to be able to operate differently,” Wittman said. “They have to be able to operate in a distributed manner. Our amphib ships – ships with well decks – are going to be incredibly important there, but you also have to have those intra-theater connectors. And it’s more than just an LCAC or a Ship-to-Shore Connector.”

“You have to be able to move things around – Marines and equipment. And when you do that, you can increase the uncertainty for the Chinese there because they’re not going to be quite sure what’s going with that Marine Corps unit, what they have in their hands and how they are going to impose risk and how you move that risk around,” he added.

Wittman argued for the Marine Corps’ vision of LAW as a less expensive ship and said the Navy can’t afford to add requirements and increase the cost of the vessel. The Marine Corps wants to buy the LAWs quickly for $150 million per hull.

“It’s more of a connector, so your connectors are never designed to be survivable,” he said. It’s the same thing that’s happened with our logistics ships. If you keep adding requirements there, you drive the cost up. Then you end up with a billion-dollar logistics ship. That’s not what we need. The LAWs are the same way. The LAWs are not meant to be a warship. They’re meant to be as they say a connector. If they’re a connector, let’s make them a connector.”

Navy and Marines Divided Over the Amphibious Fleet’s Future as Delays and Cancellations Mount in FY 2023 Budget Request

If the Marines could spend any more money as part of the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, they’d ask to buy another amphibious warship. Ranked higher than new F-35B and C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters or Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, the number one item on the Corps’ FY 2023 unfunded priority list to Congress […]

The future Richard M. McCool Jr. (LPD-29) launching at Ingalls Shipbuilding, Mississippi. HII Photo

If the Marines could spend any more money as part of the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, they’d ask to buy another amphibious warship.

Ranked higher than new F-35B and C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters or Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, the number one item on the Corps’ FY 2023 unfunded priority list to Congress is $250 million in advanced procurement funding for a new Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious warship. That’s because the Navy doesn’t plan to buy the ship at the top of the Marine Corps’ wish list.

“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 last week.

After years of working together on naval integration, the line item is the latest example of a growing split between the Navy and Marine Corps, showing how the services have come to an impasse over the future of the amphibious fleet.

Following the rollout of the Navy’s FY 2023 budget, the state of the amphibious force structure is murky. The service’s budget proposal truncates the San Antonio-class LPD-17 Flight II production line and delays the Marine Corps’ new Light Amphibious Warship purchase.

The proposal – already receiving criticism in Congress – is exposing fissures between the two sea services over their visions for amphibious platforms.

There’s a growing divergence between the Navy and Marine Corps, specifically about the LAW, a smaller amphibious ship that’s key to the Marines’ Force Design 2030 initiative and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept, multiple naval observers told USNI News last week.

“There’s this difference of opinion in the philosophy behind the LAW, which is why this debate about LPD-17 Flight II,” is happening, said Hudson Institute senior fellow Bryan Clark.

But with expensive bills like the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program and the Constellation-class frigate, the Navy has insisted its budget proposal balances maintaining the force it has with modernizing for the future, budget officials said on Monday.

“I think it’s money. I think if the Navy had enough money to fund all its high priority programs – aircraft carriers, frigate, the Columbia-class submarine and the Virginia-class attack submarines – as well as investing in the amphibious force, I think they would do it in a heartbeat,” Dakota Wood, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a retired Marine, said of the Navy’s proposal regarding the amphibious ships.

While buying smaller amphibious ships has become a priority for the Marine Corps in recent years, the service maintains it still also needs larger amphibious ships to complete its missions and meet combatant commanders’ needs.

The Marine Corps’ requirement remains 31 large amphibious ships – 10 big-deck LHAs and 21 LSDs or LPDs – which industry experts say should be constructed on four-year and two-year centers, respectively, Heckl told USNI News in a Thursday interview.

But the Navy’s plan to end the LPD-17 Flight II line – originally slated to include 13 ships – combined with plans to retire four Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships in the upcoming fiscal year, would bring the amphibious inventory down to 25 ships in the next five years, Heckl said.

“Amphibious warfare ships are being decommissioned faster than they are procured, delivered, and eventually available for employment,” Heckl told USNI News.

Navy and Marine Corps Divergence

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday speaking at WEST 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022.

The division between the Navy and Marine Corps extends to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s public comments.

Speaking on stage in February at the WEST 2022 conference in San Diego, Calif., Gilday said the Navy needs nine LHAs and 19 or 20 LPDs/LSDs, bringing the total number of large amphibious ships to 28 to 29, which is more in line with the 24 to 28 range in the Biden administration’s FY 2022 30-year shipbuilding plan.

“Perhaps 30 or more smaller amphibious ships [are needed] to support Maritime Littoral Regiments,” Gilday said at the time, referring to ships like LAW.

At the same conference, Berger told reporters the amphibious requirements study – currently in its final stages – would likely call for approximately 31 amphibious ships. In the interview last week, Heckl maintained that 31 is the “bare minimum” number for large amphibious ships.

Navy deputy assistant secretary for budget Rear Adm. John Gumbleton told reporters last week that LPD-32 would be the last amphibious transport dock the service plans to buy in the San Antonio class.

As evident from the top item on the unfunded list, the Marines are against ending the line.

A senior congressional aide told USNI News that ending the LPD-32 line – which has largely been delivering on time and on budget from Ingalls Shipbuilding after problems in the program’s early years – is “short sighted.” Amphibious ships and the four proposed LSD retirements in the FY 2023 budget will likely be a crucial item of discussion as lawmakers draft the National Defense Authorization Act, according to the aide.

“It’s going to be a debate on the overall amphib[ious] force structure in Congress this year, so we’ll see how it all shines out in the end. But we will be debating the four LSDs and talking about amphib force structure writ large, making sure we have the minimum number of ships the Commandant needs,” the aide told USNI News.

The aide said lawmakers’ thinking is more in line with the Marine Corps’ vision of LAW as a more affordable ship the service can buy quickly and that Congress would likely push to buy the ship sooner than FY 2025. The Navy and Marine Corps need both intra-theater lift and forcible entry platforms – smaller amphibious ships like LAWs and larger ships like LHAs and LPDs, respectively – to operate in the region, the aide said.

“If your premise is that you support [these] intra-theater connectors, LAW needs to move. And when I say move, it needs to move forward,” the aide said.

The Navy’s recent request also included LHA-9, – a ship Congress has already authorized and appropriated money for – so the House Armed Services Committee is considering the ship already procured, the aide said.

America-class amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6), back, and landing crafts, air cushion attached to Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 5 sail in formation in support of Noble Fusion, Feb. 7, 2022. US Navy Photo

Meanwhile, the Navy doesn’t plan to buy the next LHA – LHA-10 – until FY 2031, meaning there would be an eight- or 11-year gap between LHA-9 and LHA-10, depending on the procurement year assigned to LHA-9, Heckl told USNI News. Delaying the ship’s purchase until then would make “maintaining the line completely untenable for industry, particularly the supply base that construct[s] amphibious warfare ship components,” the deputy commandant said.

As for LAW, Heckl said there’s some risk in delaying the program because the Marine Corps has already begun standing up its Marine Littoral Regiments, the formation the service converted and reshaped to move around smaller units aboard LAW.

“It’s bad. It’s very bad, because at some point as we stand up more and more MLRs, it requires more and more LAW to support them. And we’re only going to be able to go so far with leasing or finding other creative solutions with the Navy,” he said.

Still, the Navy has not formally released a Force Structure Assessment in more than five years, making it difficult to understand where the service stands.

“We really don’t know where the administration’s at because we don’t have a Force Structure Assessment out there. This amphib study is one thing, but even an amphib study with the lack of overall context about where we’re going at with regards to overall force structure, it’s kind of missing the ball with regards to telling Congress about what the military’s requirements are,” the senior congressional aide said.

Developing LAW

An artist’s concept of a modern tank landing ship.

Since the Commandant became the Marine Corps’ top officer, he has put forward proposals to reshape the service, arguing it needs to become lighter and more mobile to move Marines around the Pacific in a potential conflict with China.

A crucial part of that vision is the Marine Corps using smaller, less expensive amphibious ships to shuttle smaller units of Marines between islands and shorelines, where they could set up ad-hoc bases. The LAW, which would land Marines directly ashore, is one of those smaller ships.

The idea, according to the Marine Corps, is that the Marines who move between islands and shorelines aboard LAWs could then fire anti-ship missiles, increase the risk to the adversaries’ fleet and create chaos in the theater during a potential conflict.

While the Marine Corps has said the landing ships are key to moving its new MLRs around the Pacific, the Navy has kept delaying the start of the program.

The first LAW purchase was originally slated for FY 2022 under the Trump administration’s December 2020 shipbuilding plan, but delayed to FY 2023 in the Biden administration’s FY 2022 budget. Now the first purchase is scheduled for FY 2025. The current plan is to buy one the first year, another in FY 2026 and two in FY 2027.

“The first LAW will not deliver within this FYDP,” Heckl told USNI News in a statement. Heckl was referring to the Future Years Defense Program, or the Pentagon’s five-year budget outlook.

Pushing the delivery of the first LAW past FY 2027 means the Marine Corps would receive the ship after the so-called “Davidson window,” which refers to former U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. Phil Davidson’s testimony to Congress last March that China could try to take Taiwan in the next six years.

The Marines see LAW as an affordable, smaller ship the Navy could purchase quickly for about $150 million per hull. But keeping LAW affordable has become difficult as the Navy evaluates the survivability of a ship that could end up operating in the South China Sea.

“I think they’re not on the same page. I think the Navy essentially wants to truncate the LPD-17 Flight II and use that money to instead by the Light Amphibious Warship, with the idea that the Light Amphibious Warship is going to have to be fairly survivable to be viable inside these contested environments, which means it will be relatively expensive,” Clark told USNI News. “And therefore they need the money from the LPDs to pay for them because if you have a Light Amphibious Warship that costs $300 million – which is something that’s more in the scope of what the Navy’s thinking – then if you want to buy three or four per year, that’s essentially an LPD-17.”

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

“That’s the direction the Navy wants to go. The Marine Corps wants to basically have both. They want to have the LPD-17 Flight IIs and then also buy the LAW, because they view the LAW as a much … less survivable ship, with the idea that they’re not going to drive it into highly contested environments. It’s intended to support mobility, and then if they’re getting shot at, they may not actually use it. They might keep it in port,” Clark added.

Concerned about the history of the Littoral Combat Ship program, the Navy has pushed for more requirements for LAW to make the ship more survivable, while the Marine Corps still wants to quickly buy a less expensive amphibious ship, Clark said.

“I think the debate is fundamentally [that] the Marine Corps feels they’re willing to take those risks and the Navy isn’t on board because the Navy’s worried about the kind of back-pressure they’re going to get from Congress or [the Office of the Secretary of Defense],” he added.

Mark Cancian, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it appears the Navy and Marine Corps may have “two different visions” of LAW, diverging on how small it should be and what kind of defensive systems should go on the ship.

“I think what happened was that the Marine Corps has been running around saying, ‘large ships are too vulnerable. We will never do a large-scale amphibious assault again. We need small ships to operate inside the weapons engagement zone.’ And the Navy and OSD have heard that and said, ‘OK. OK. But what that means is we’re going to stop building large amphibs,’” Cancian said.

Asked about the delay of the LAW program, Cancian said the Navy and Marine Corps could be having a debate about what LAW should look like.

“I can imagine the discussion is about the size and capability of this ship. The Marine Corps had talked about something very small … disposable, barely ocean-capable and with a limited lifetime,” Cancian said.

“And I think the Navy may have balked at that – buying 30 ships with such limited capabilities and maybe having a discussion about buying something larger that would be globally deployable, like the old [Landing Ship Tanks], which would of course be much more expensive but much more capable,” he added. “You could put those out on a routine forward deployment. The ARGs – you could put them in ARGs, which you can’t do with LAWs, at least the original vision of the LAWs.”

Wood attributed the decision to delay LAW and end the LPD line to funding constraints, pointing to the Columbia-class program, the Constellation-class frigate and the Ford-class aircraft carriers as high priority programs where the Navy feels it cannot take any risks.

“It’s the whole category of amphibious capabilities is in competition with those other things, so then it becomes risk management and where the Navy … can take risk,” Wood said.

“There’s always been this question of how many amphibs? What do we think an amphibious force is going to do? Can it get close enough to an objective given the size of LPDs, LSDs, LHAs? So that’s been a problem for years anyway,” he added.

Wood noted the question of survivability – which is where it appears the Navy and Marine Corps disagree on LAW – is a historic problem for Pentagon programs. As the services add more defensive capabilities or armor to platforms, like the Defense Department did with mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles during the Iraq War, they become more expensive. But Wood argued the Navy and Marine Corps cannot afford to go this route with ships.

“I don’t think there is any lost love. I think that the Navy and the Marines Corps services really do want to work well together and that they recognize the importance of naval power in an era where China poses the most substantial challenge to U.S. interests for the next two or three decades. It’s an inherently maritime environment in that part of the world,” he said.

Marine Corps Dissension

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

Though embraced in the civilian analyst community, the Marine Corps strategy underpinning the pursuit of LAW is facing heavy criticism from retired Marine generals and officers.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last month, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb described a coordinated effort by retired Marine Corps generals – including almost two-dozen four-stars – to voice apprehensions about Berger’s plans to reshape the force by shedding heavier armor and equipment like tanks.

“After several unsuccessful attempts by retired senior officers to engage in a quiet dialogue with Gen. Berger, the gloves have now come off. The traditional deference has been replaced by a sense of duty to the Marine Corps and its vital role in our national security,” Webb wrote. “Recently, 22 retired four-star Marine generals signed a nonpublic letter of concern to Gen. Berger, and many others have stated their support of the letter. A daily working group that includes 17 retired generals has been formed to communicate concerns to national leaders.”

This means Berger is not only navigating internal Navy dynamics over the budget and the future of the amphibious force structure, but also outside criticism from his predecessors about his effort to reshape the Marine Corps.

“I think they have several concerns. One is that the Marine Corps’s getting smaller and will be challenged to meet its global commitments. One is that the structure is too focused on the western Pacific and the Marine Corps will not be able to participate effectively in operations in other areas,” Cancian, a retired Marine Corps colonel, said of the officers’ concerns.

The Marine Corps has argued that its strategy, which is focused on the Indo-Pacific, would work in other regions across the globe.

“And the third is cultural, that is that the infantry gets much smaller. Over the last 20 years, the Marines’ infantry units have probably been cut in half. The focus of certainly the MLRs is on long-range precision strike in the artillery, not the infantry,” Cancian added. “And there’s a concern that – combined with some of the talent management proposals – that the Marine Corps is getting away from its roots of excellence in ground combat, particularly close combat.”

Marines board the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) via landing craft, air cushion, March 21, 2022. US Navy Photo

As for the amphibious force structure, Berger has argued the Marine Corps needs both the new, smaller ships like the LAW and the larger amphibious warships that make up the Amphibious Ready Groups.

“There is not a tradeoff. Our capacity in the industrial base can handle both. And I know that not anecdotally, but my conversations with leadership at places like Huntington Ingalls is [that] they have the capacity. And they are complementary capabilities,” Berger said in February when asked if the Navy can build both LAW and the larger amphibs.
“They are not a substitute for each other because a traditional amphibious ship has all the attributes that we know and love so much over the years that a Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Ready Group have been using,” Berger said.

CNO Gilday: ‘We Need a Naval Force of Over 500 Ships’

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. Navy needs a fleet of more than 500 ships to meet its commitments to the soon-to-be released National Defense Strategy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Friday.  “I’ve concluded – consistent with the analysis – that we need a naval force of over 500 ships,” Gilday […]

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG-111), left, USS America (LHA-6), and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), transit the Philippine Sea on Jan. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. Navy needs a fleet of more than 500 ships to meet its commitments to the soon-to-be released National Defense Strategy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Friday. 

“I’ve concluded – consistent with the analysis – that we need a naval force of over 500 ships,” Gilday said during the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute.

“We need 12 carriers. We need a strong amphibious force to include nine big-deck amphibs and another 19 or 20 [LPDs] to support them. Perhaps 30 or more smaller amphibious ships to support Maritime Littoral Regiments… to 60 destroyers and probably 50 frigates, 70 attack submarines and a dozen ballistic missile submarines to about a 100 support ships and probably looking into the future about 150 unmanned.”

According to Gilday’s list, that force would be about 513 ships with 263 manned combatants, plus 100 logistics and supply ships and 150 unmanned vessels. Gilday told reporters later that the total would include Littoral Combat Ships.

“LCS is in that mix,” he said.

The numbers Gilday said on Friday are largely in line with a notional high-end total included in the abbreviated Fiscal Year 2022 long-range shipbuilding plan. The ongoing congressionally-mandated force structure assessment will inform the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, Gilday said. But details of the FSA have largely been under wraps as the Pentagon continues to craft its next national defense strategy.

“We’re going through another force structure assessment right now, but based on the hard work we’ve done over the last five or six years we’re thinking about how we would fight,” Gilday said. “How would we fight differently in terms of a wide, vast ocean like the Pacific?”

For the last three years, the Navy’s future force structure has been in flux, undergoing several different fleet reviews while the Department of the Navy and Pentagon leadership underwent unprecedented churn in 2019 and 2020.

The attempt at a force structure assessment led to the Trump administration releasing an ambitious fleet plan toward the end of its tenure. The Biden administration shelved the plan shortly after President Joe Biden took office, prompting the Navy and the Office of the Secretary of the Defense to again reevaluate the force under new Pentagon leadership and the prospect of a flat budget outlay.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday speaking at WEST 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022.

Over the last year, the Navy has set out on an aggressive testing program to refine the emerging Distributed Maritime Operations concept that will connect crewed and unmanned ships and aircraft to operate in concert across the vast distances of the Pacific.

In particular, Large Scale Exercise 2021 tested DMO in addition to the Marines Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment across three combatant commands in a networked exercise with live and simulated exercises. The Navy and Marines are also testing deployed carrier strike and amphibious ready groups with complicated battle problems that further test the underlying concepts. Meanwhile, in U.S. 5th Fleet, the ongoing testing of small unmanned vessels is refining how the service thinks about employing them in the future.

“The real message I wanted to get out of those numbers, it’s actually grounded on how we’re going to fight,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has an ongoing amphibious ship requirements study that it will ultimately deliver to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said the study is about 30 to 45 days away from completion and he expects the analysis to call for approximately 31 amphibious ships. So far, Del Toro has received two progress updates about the study, Berger said.

“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 told reporters at WEST. “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 study is assessing the requirements for both large amphibious ships and the Light Amphibious Warship, which the Marine Corps wants to shuttle Marines around islands and shorelines in the Indo-Pacific. LAW is supposed to have a beaching capability so it can easily deliver Marines to the shore. While the Marine Corps is behind the push for LAW, money to purchase the platform would come out of the Navy’s shipbuilding account.

Gilday’s affirmation of the fleet follows reports the that the Biden administration is planning late influx funds into the Pentagon budget for FY 2023. USNI News reported earlier this week that the new topline could be as high $773 billion.