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.

Marines Pitching Service as Western Pacific Recon Asset for Combined Joint Force

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military. The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines […]

Marine Corps Cpl. Alexander Tran, intelligence specialist with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, launches a RQ-20B Puma at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military.

The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines would have the capabilities needed to deploy for missions in the region.

In a recent interview with USNI News, Col. Stephen Fiscus, the assistant chief of staff for force development at Marine Corps Forces Pacific, described the vision for SIF as having nearly all of the service’s force laydown in the Indo-Pacific acting as the reconnaissance arm for the combined joint force.

“To be inside and to be able to understand and report on what the enemy is doing, basically to be able to … the wonky way of describing it is the ability to gain and maintain custody of high-value targets and hold them at risk, with our own resources or joint force resources,” Fiscus said.

“[Special Operations Forces] has the capability to do that, but certainly the Marine Corps has the capability to do that at much greater scale, and with much greater persistence. SOF can’t do it at scale and at the capacity that we can,” he added.

The Marines argue that because they’re already operating in places like Okinawa, Japan, part of the first island chain that is in the range of Chinese weapons, they are in the position to perform the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance missions in a potential conflict.

“As part of the Stand-in Force, what that really means to the [Marine Littoral Regiment] is, we look at it to deter malign behavior, to operate inside the enemy’s weapons engagement zone, to support sea control and sea denial operations and then ultimately … to set the conditions for joint force and combined follow-on actions as part of that Stand-in Force,” Col. Timothy Brady, the commanding officer of the recently re-designated 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, told USNI News.

While the new 3rd MLR is a piece of the Stand-In Force, the concept would employ most of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force and the Marine Expeditionary Units embarked on the Navy’s amphibious ships and operating in the Pacific.

“The Stand-in Force … pretty much requires almost all of III MEF, elements of I MEF, and the transiting MEUs in order to make it fully capable. It requires almost all of the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]-assigned force. And the infrastructure from Marine Corps Installations Pacific that enables that is pretty key to that as well. So it requires all of it. So to focus on just, on one entity is kind of missing the totality. The whole MAGTF, or Marine Air-Ground Task Force concept, is applicable to the Stand-in-Force,” Fiscus said.

The ability to see and realize information, Fiscus said, is the cornerstone of delivering the type of lethality the Marine Corps is historically known for bringing to conflict.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion 76 assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5, prepares to land on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“It’s understanding what your target is, where it is, and the effect that it’s going to have on the network that you’re influencing. You can translate that directly from what we were doing in counter-insurgency operations with the effect on an insurgent network, all the way down to a peer and pacing threat,” he said.

“And what’s going to happen when you take this asset out? It’s fairly easy to be lethal, to pull a trigger – whether that trigger is the 566 from a rifle or all the way up to using a Naval Strike Missile or a [Tomahawk Land Attack Missile], or some other huge asset and you’re targeting a capital asset. The need is to understand what you’re doing and understand immediately what’s going to happen. And that’s what Stand-in Forces bring, is they bring that whole package to the naval expeditionary force that really closes a pretty significant gap,” Fiscus continued.

3rd MLR Experimentation

U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, post security during a field training exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 30, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

After converting the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in March, Brady says they now have the relevant units in place to do full-scale experimentation.

The MLR consists of a Littoral Combat Team, a Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. In June, the Marine Corps converted 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines into the 3rd MLR’s Littoral Combat Team and also re-designated Combat Logistics Battalion 3 into the Littoral Logistics Battalion that is now under the 3rd MLR, Brady said. That means the 3rd MLR now has all three units operating under the new construct.

“This provides us the opportunity – as we continue to train and experiment moving forward – with all of the primary capabilities now being organic to the MLR, to be able to develop our concepts of employment for our future Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Brady said.
“Because it will take portions of all those different units to provide the capabilities necessary to be able to do the sea control and sea denial operations, to be able to provide the long-range precision fires, to be able to provide the air direction, air control early warning activities, to be able to provide the sensors necessary to the joint force,” he continued. “It will take an aspect of each one of those battalions to be able to actually produce the capability for it in the battlespace. So for the very first time, we have all of those capabilities as part of this unit and that’s what we’re looking forward to training in the future with.”

The Hawaiian islands, where the 3rd MLR is based, are uniquely suited to experiment with the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept – which would see Marines quickly moving between islands and shorelines to set up ad-hoc bases and fire anti-ship missiles – because they are similar to the first island chain, Brady said.

“To EABO in and of itself – to be able to seize and secure key maritime terrain – is not anything new to the Marine Corps. But the purpose of EABO is a paradigm shift. The purpose now is once we do seize and secure that maritime terrain is to look outward, right, to be able to support the naval expeditionary campaign and the larger naval campaign with that battlespace awareness … along with those long-range precision fires,” Brady said.

During the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise, the Marine Corps is employing the EABO concept in two different scenarios: to enable an amphibious landing and to enable the transit of a carrier strike group.

“So specifically to RIMPAC, having an amphibious task force as well as a carrier strike group operating in the notional operating environment, we are supporting their maritime maneuver. And ultimately the MLR helps the joint and combined force achieve multi-domain integrated naval power to be able to impose asymmetric threats on the enemy,” Brady said.

Digital Interoperability

A Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra participates in a sink exercise (SINKEX) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Brady described a layered approach to how his unit is working toward operating with the joint force and ultimately allies and partners, also known as the combined force, which the Marines have the chance to work with at RIMPAC.

But working across the various platforms means they need what the Marines have defined as digital interoperability, or a way for all of the systems from the different U.S. services and other nations’ forces to communicate with each other.

“As we build those kill webs, that digital interoperability, you know the communications and the [command and control] systems, and we’re actually applying all those sensors and eventually the long-range precision fires, is we’re doing that internally to that Stand-in Force, the MAGTF, right, the Marine Corps,” Brady said.

“At the next level we’re really doing that across the joint force and looking at how to do that better. And then what RIMPAC provides us the opportunity to do is to do that with the combined force, right, the allies and partners, because to close those kill webs requires a lot of digital interoperability across multiple different systems, to be able to do it at speed and to be able to do it with all those nations that will be together inside the first island chain,” he continued.

In the type of conflict environment the services are preparing for in the Indo-Pacific, forces need multiple avenues to share information.

“If one type of way form is shut down and we can’t use it, there needs to be other pathways that we can take advantage of to move that information along, again, to generate that tempo for the commander so he can make a timely and accurate decision,” said Maj. Adrian Solis, a fires expert at MARFORPAC.

Future Capabilities

A Marine with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, triages a victim during a simulated mass casualty evacuation training event at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

While Fiscus said the Marine Corps has what it needs to communicate with various assets across the joint force to share targeting information and execute missions under the Stand-in Forces concept, he said the Marines need more of the platforms they’re currently experimenting with – like the MQ-9A Reaper used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“A lot of our platforms right now, we have one or two of them. And we have a plan to get more, but we have one or two of them. So we’re fairly finite,” he said.

The service also wants to make some of their capabilities and assets lighter so Marines can move quickly and carry what they need on their backs while moving around islands and shorelines.

“Making them small, deployable forward and getting them out to where [Brady] can access them and tactical commanders can fuse all of those systems is a big part of the experimentation in the systems that we’re doing. We have answers that say yes, we can do that. We can see them. We can put them together,” Fiscus said.

“Doing it sustainably and in austere environments and amidst allies and partners – because remember, we’re standing in, chances are we’re standing in next to somebody. All of the allies and partners that we’re sailing with that he’s working with right now, they by nature of where they’re located are standing in too. So we anticipate being with them on their terrain,” he added.

With IOC a year away, Brady and Fiscus said they’re focused on getting more capabilities to experiment with, like the stern landing vessel the Marine Corps wants to use while the service continues developing the Light Amphibious Warship. LAW is meant to have a beachable capability to shuttle Marines directly to islands and shorelines without needing to pull into a pier and a leased stern landing vessel will allow the Marine Corps to experiment with the capability in the interim.

I MEF in southern California will start the experimentation with the stern landing vessel, and then it will head to Hawaii. Fiscus said the 3rd MLR should have the platform within a year.

The service also now has a platoon of several dozen Marines who will do research and development work in Norfolk, Va., on the service’s future Long Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle, or LRUSV, Brady said.

“The Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vessel … that’s something that will provide additional reach and availability of weapons and systems well out into the maritime domain,” Brady said. “All of those things are coming in the next couple of years that will further enable us to provide additional capabilities to the joint and combined force.”

Metal Shark is on contract to build several LRUSV prototypes for the Marine Corps through an other transaction authority agreement, the company announced in January 2021.

While the Marine Corps first envisioned the LRUSV to function as an ISR platform and a way to bring more fires to the fight, Fiscus said the service wants to experiment and see what else the platform could do. 

“Its principal mechanism right now, as it was conceived, was the ability to sense and bring additional firepower, organic precision firepower to the totality of the package. But that doesn’t limit it from what it’s possibilities could be once we understand – you know, right now we’re still in that concept phase. But the initial concept the way it was scratched out was for an additional surface ISR and organic precision fires platform,” he said.

While IOC is about a year away and will mean the Marines are ready to deploy under the SIF concept, Fiscus said achieving full operational capability will require the Marine Corps to remain deployed for longer and sustain the force’s operations.

“By achieving IOC of the Stand-in Force, the totality of the Stand-in Force, you will have a deployable and sustainable capability for that to go forward, supported by the full MAGTF. That includes the full sense and make sense. So we will have our Group 5 [unmanned aerial system] – the MQ-9A – up with the ability to connect the whole package and do it. IOC means we have the capability and it’s deployable,” Fiscus said.

The 3rd MLR “be forward doing it, supporting operations, activities, investments – OAIs – but you’ll see the totality of the value proposition fieldable and presentable in its full depth. It may only be for finite periods of time because … the difference between IOC and FOC is depth and sustainability and how long that presence can be forward and impactful.”

Report to Congress on the Light Amphibious Warship

The following is the July 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy’s Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of up to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine Corps […]

The following is the July 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy’s Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of up to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine Corps operational concept called Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). The Navy had previously envisioned procuring the first LAW in FY2023, but the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission defers the procurement of the first LAW to FY2025. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $12.2 million in research and development funding for the program.

The EABO concept was developed with an eye toward potential conflict scenarios with China in the Western Pacific. Under the concept, the Marine Corps envisions, among other things, having reinforced-platoon-sized Marine Corps units maneuver around the theater, moving from island to island, to fire anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and perform other missions so as to contribute, alongside Navy and other U.S. military forces, to U.S. operations to counter and deny sea control to Chinese forces. The LAW ships would be instrumental to these operations, with LAWs embarking, transporting, landing, and subsequently reembarking these small Marine Corps units.

LAWs would be much smaller and individually much less expensive to procure and operate than the Navy’s current amphibious ships. Under the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission, the first LAW would be procured in FY2025 at a cost of $247.0 million, the second LAW would be procured in FY2026 at a cost of $203.0 million, and the third and fourth LAWs would be procured in FY2027 at a combined cost of $290.0 million (i.e., an average cost of $145.0 million each). The first LAW would cost substantially more than subsequent ships in the program because the procurement cost of the first LAW would include much or all of the detailed design/nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs for the class. (It is a traditional Navy budgeting practice to include much of all of the DD/NRE costs for a class of ship in the procurement cost of the lead ship in the class.)

The LAW as outlined by the Navy could be built by any of several U.S. shipyards. The Navy’s baseline preference is to have a single shipyard build all the ships, but the Navy is open to having them built in multiple yards to the same design if doing so could permit the program to be implemented more quickly and/or less expensively. The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission states that the contract for the construction of the first LAW would be awarded in December 2024, and that the ship would be delivered in July 2028.

The LAW program poses a number of potential oversight matters for Congress. The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s annual funding requests and envisioned acquisition strategy for the program. Congress’s decisions regarding the program could affect Navy and Marine Corps capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

Download the document here.

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.

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.

Marines Stand Up First Marine Littoral Regiment

The Marine Corps this week formally converted its Hawaii-based regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, taking another step in the pursuit of its new island-hopping strategy in the Indo-Pacific. As part of the service’s Force Design 2030 effort, the Marine Corps converted the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in a […]

Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division present arms during the redesignation ceremony of 3d Marines to 3d MLR aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 3, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

The Marine Corps this week formally converted its Hawaii-based regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, taking another step in the pursuit of its new island-hopping strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

As part of the service’s Force Design 2030 effort, the Marine Corps converted the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in a Thursday ceremony at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“The concept of this 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment standing up – re-designating 3rd Marine Regiment to 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment – is a visible, physical representation of the Marine Corps’ change to outpace a pacing threat, so that we are in the best position to offer conventional [and] integrated deterrence …. in support of our National Defense Strategy,” Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith told reporters earlier this week.

Military officials describe China as “the pacing threat,” and the Marine Corps’ vision for Force Design includes smaller units that could quickly move between islands and archipelagos, setting up ad-hoc expeditionary advanced bases and firing anti-ship missiles.

Part of the shift to the 3rd MLR construct includes those smaller units – about 75 to 100 Marines in an Expeditionary Advanced Base detachment – that are constantly prepared to deploy to the first and second island chains, as opposed to the historic six-month deployments.

“They are strategically placed via our organic mobility throughout the first and second island chain in order to change an adversary’s calculus,” Smith said. “Again, these units – instead of a captain who’s in charge of 175 Marines, [need] to have a captain or a first lieutenant who’s in charge of 75 Marines with a very specific task.”

Marines with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, 3rd Marine Division conduct the redesignation ceremony of 3rd Marines to 3rd MLR aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 3, 2022. US Marine Corps

The ACMC listed four capabilities the MLR needs: long-range fires – like the Navy-Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) program that features a Naval Strike Missile mounted on an unmanned JLTV chassis; – the MQ-9A Reaper drone for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; radars and communication systems like the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR); and “organic mobility” with platforms like the Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LRUSV) that Marines could employ with the Light Amphibious Warship and other larger amphibious ships.

“The equipment’s going to change over the years. State of the art technology will change in five years or six years, but the MLR will stay as an organization that is purpose-built to deploy immediately in small-task organized units so that its signature is such that it is not easily detectable, and yet it packs enough of a punch that the adversary has to account for it. They have to consider it because that takes pressure off the rest of the joint force,” Smith said.

While the threat will decide where the Marine Corps bases its equipment, Smith said the service also needs to adhere to the environmental and legal mandates, depending on the host nation, before choosing where the equipment will live.

But the Marines have four goals to achieve with the MLR in the Indo-Pacific by the end of Fiscal Year 2023.

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

“Those capabilities broadly are additional organic lift – aviation lift and I’m talking KC-130s – into the Indo-Pacific theater, long-range strike into the Indo-Pacific theater. And that means our Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction system, which was successfully demonstrated at last year’s Large-Scale Exercise,” Smith said.
“We have to show our long-range intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance air platform – the MQ-9 Alpha extended range – we have to introduce that into the theater in ’23. And then we have to stand up the 3rd MLR,” which is what the Marines did this week. “And that represents our ability to live, train and deploy in these small disaggregated units.”

The Marine Corps already has G/ATOR systems in Okinawa, Japan, and has experimented with LRUSV using a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) and will keep testing the use of LRUSV with ships from Metal Shark. The service is also leasing one stern landing vessel through the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab so it can use the platform for testing before 2023.

“We know what we want to do with the vehicle – there’s no doubt about the concept of employment. Now we’re talking about the specifics of beachability and exact size. that’s what the analysis of alternatives for which ship do you procure – that will determine that. But we already have a surrogate that we will lease to use for experimentation,” Smith said. “And we might additionally lease two more for a total of three because we don’t want to wait for the LAW to come online for us to then confirm – not come up with – but confirm our concept of operations.”

Smith said the 2023 timeline stems from the need to show Congress and the Defense Department that the Marine Corps has made progress on Force Design and the service’s obligations to provide capabilities to combatant commanders that can help deter an adversary.

“We can’t wait until the adversary has reached their full potential and then try to divert them, to change them. We have to change that trajectory now, meaning by the end of Fiscal Year ’23,” he said.

Adversaries, according to Smith, don’t like the Marine Corps’ strategy because of the unpredictability and maneuverability a unit like the MLR brings.

“They don’t like the fact that units are highly mobile, that they have a low signature and that they – the adversary – doesn’t know where these things are. Because we’re talking about an organization that’s 75 Marines who have organic mobility, either by air or by surface connector. And once they’re ashore, they have organic mobility in the form of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and relatively small trucks that are inherently mobile and have capabilities to shut down a network, to strike a capital warship and then fade away and move again,” he said.
“Adversaries hate that because they don’t have effective control over their – the adversary’s – plan. So all of our assessments, wargaming and analysis say that we are on the right track. We are constantly adjusting the exact size of an infantry battalion, the exact number of missiles a unit needs to carry so that it matches our logistics capability, the exact signature that they will put out – that is constantly adjusting based on the adversary’s ability to pick up our signature.”

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, currently attached to 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, demonstrate expeditionary advanced basing capabilities Oct. 7 to 8, 2020, as part of Exercise Noble Fury, from Okinawa to Ie Shima and across surrounding waters. US Marine Corps Photo

The current plan is for the Marine Corps to have three Marine Littoral Regiments all based in the Indo-Pacific. It will eventually convert the 4th Marine Regiment and the 12th Marine Regiment – both based in Okinawa – into MLRs. The service needs all three MLRs operating by 2030, with Smith estimating a transition for one organization in the 2025-2026 timeline and 2027-2030 for third one.

“By ‘30, we will have all three of them and what we’ll do is we will confirm with this first regiment what is exactly needed. We’ll take our time. That may mean the second MLR to stand up is a little slower than we thought, but it’ll be easier to do because we’ll know exactly what sized unit to put in there – exactly how many master sergeants, exactly how many staff sergeants, exactly how many missiles,” the ACMC said. “So all of them have to be stood up 2030, which is when we would consider the decade of uncertainty beings. You have to be ready because again the pacing threat’s moving.”

Smith acknowledged the 3rd MLR could be a little bigger than previous estimates of 1,800 to 2,000 Marines and sailors, but said the organization will be smaller than the 3rd Marine Regiment. The MLR is slated to include a Littoral Combat Team, Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. Smith said the service is still working on the Littoral Anti-Air Battalion, so depending on new technologies that come online, the MLR could require fewer or more Marines and change in size over the next one to three years. But Smith said it’s unclear if that change will be a difference of 50 Marines or 300.

As the Marines perform more exercises and collect more data, the service will have the chance to hone the number.

“Changing the size of the unit every single day – you don’t do that. You might do it annually, or every two years,” Smith said. “But when there’s data sufficient to prove that we need to change, we’ll change again because the pacing threat’s always changing. They’re always moving.”