WASHINGTON: The Navy’s decision to cut its future amphibious fleet from 38 ships to 33 has left the Marines clamoring for any and all options on how to close that gap, Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said today.
The typically stoic and reserved Dunford got a little gung-ho when I asked him what the Marines stand to lose with a 33-ship amphibious fleet. “We lose capacity, we assume more risk,” Dunford said with vigor after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But just as quickly, the four-star general returned to form and explained that the Navy and Marine Corps came to the decision together and would make due with the situation as a team.
The Marines are looking at everything — from the Littoral Combat Ship to the Navy’s fleet of prepositioning supply ships — as a way to get more amphibious capability into the water, Dunford said. He suggested the Navy could “put a flight deck” on some of its large, Bob Hope-class supply ships and use them for amphibious operations. Those ships can support helicopters but not fixed-wing aircraft.
So what has the Marines so eager to slap landing decks on container ships and scramble aboard the LCS? The answer lies in the Navy’s future shipbuilding plan. The standing requirement for the amphibious fleet, or the “Gator Navy” as its known inside the service, has been a 38-ship force. The Marines say that’s still the requirement. So does the Navy. But that’s not what the services are going to get over the next few years. Instead they’ll get 33 ships. And that won’t happen until 2016.
Meanwhile, Marine and Navy officials are pressing ahead with a new Marine Corps-specific mission package for the LCS, Dunford said today. Options on what that mission package may look like are making the rounds inside the Pentagon. Getting a Marine Corps package aboard the LCS will help meet the service’s amphibious needs. The four-star general did not comment on the specifics of that ongoing work. LCS program executive officer Rear Adm. James Murdoch all but guaranteed Marine Corps would get their own mission package on the ship. But service leaders decided to officially move forward with the plan during Navy-Marine Corps warfighter talks held earlier this year, Dunford said.
Dunford was clear that increasing budget pressures put the Navy and Marine Corps in this predicament. It was also clear that he, and probably most of the service’s top leadership, were not happy about it.