The amphibious assault ship Bataan transits the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 20 en route to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. The Marine Corps needs a minimum of 38 amphibious warships to meet its worldwide expeditionary mission, according to 20 current and retired Marine 3- and 4-stars. (MC1 R.J. Stratchko/Navy)
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Twenty retired Marine Corps generals — including former U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Jim Mattis and previous commandant Gen. James Conway — joined forces with Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos to call for a minimum of 38 amphibious warships to meet the Corps’ ongoing expeditionary mission.
Calling them the “Swiss Army Knives” of the sea, the group of retired three- and four-star generals wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, calling on its members to provide supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations funding to pay for readiness and reset of the Navy’s current amphibious fleet and to invest in future construction.
“Experience over the past decade demonstrates that the demand for amphibious warships will not decrease,” they wrote in the letter, first published by the U.S. Naval Institute. “Their versatility and interoperability with our allies have repeatedly caused them to serve as the cornerstone of America’s visible forward presence, projecting metered power and response to crises ranging from non-combatant evacuations and humanitarian assistance to direct military intervention.”
The Navy’s aging fleet of amphibious ships, which make up the amphibious ready groups that support Marine expeditionary unit deployments, has been a bone of contention as construction of new ships has fallen victim to budget cutbacks under the Budget Control Act.
The Marines say their minimum requirement of amphibious ships for forcible entry is 38, well over the current amphib fleet size of 29. A constrained force of 33 warships, the generals wrote, will not become a reality until at least the 2020s.
Amos also made the case for more amphibs to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday morning, saying during a hearing on the posture of the Navy that the paucity of available warships is leaving gaps in the Corps’ areas of operation.
“We have a gap right now in the Mediterranean,” Amos said. “In the late 90s and the early part of the 2000s, we had MEUs and amphibious groups in the Mediterranean all the time.”
The steady-state requirement of amphibious ships is well above the forcible-entry minimum of 38, he said.
“I’ve said I’d like to have 50-plus amphibious ships,” Amos said. “Can we get more and should we get more, the answer is yes. It’s a question of where we’re going to get the money.”
The letter-writers suggested increasing the planned number of ships in the LPD-17 program, to 12. Initially, building plans called for a dozen of the San Antonio-class ships, but the requirement was cut to 11 due to budget constraints and cost overruns. The retired officers recommended using that design in future construction with the technology of the LX(R), a planned lower-cost amphib replacement.
“By using the proven LPD-17 design for a 12th warship, we can leverage existing industry workforce and supplier relationships, thereby building a timely cost-effective bridge to LX(R) deliveries while also ensuring the health of our warship industrial base and labor force,” the retired generals wrote.
For a number of the letter-signers, such as Conway, the call for more amphibs represents one of their firstmajor public lobbying efforts since hanging up the uniform.
With a Pentagon budget request already submitted, it’s not clear what the prospects might be for securing that 12th ship. But the Marine Corps plans to submit an unfunded priority list, Amos confirmed Thursday, which might include its need for more ships.