WASHINGTON – The US Marine Corps will update its concept of landing operations, even while waiting to see how many ships the US Navy partner will provide for these operations.

Marine Corps Commander General David Berger has ordered the Marine Corps Military Laboratory to develop a concept for 21st century amphibious operations by the end of the year as part of an ongoing training campaign to inform Force Design modernization efforts. 2030

Major General Benjamin Watson, who commands the lab, told a news conference on May 10 that much of the early work in Force Design focused on a new formation called the Marine Coastal Regiment, which will send small units to scattered positions around island chains and coastlines to act as reserve forces. Amphibious operations remain important for the Navy and Marine Corps, he said, but were largely excluded from the force design discussion.

The next eight months of work will allow the Marine Military Laboratory, the Naval Development Center and other organizations to consider future amphibious operations “from crisis response, in many cases to the lower end of the conflict spectrum, to what is still requirement for joint forces to enter by force. “

Lieutenant General Carsten Hackel, Deputy Commander for Combat Development and Integration, told the same roundtable at the Modern Day Marine 2022 convention that the landing group and naval expeditionary unit, or ARG / MEU, still closely resembles ARG today. / MEU from the 80s of the last century.

“Things have changed drastically; “Certainly the nature of the war has changed,” he said.

The bottom line of landing operations – such as disaster response and humanitarian aid – has not changed much.

“But as you move up this ramp of escalation, the discrepancy is significant. It was when we entered the Marines, we said, 25 nautical miles above the horizon, you are safe. “It’s not applicable today, so it needs to change,” Hackle said.

Berger, in remarks on May 10 at Modern Day Marine, visualizes what he believes the 2030 ARG / MEU can bring to the battle, in addition to the range of missions it already carries out today, including disaster response, attacks, evacuations. embassies, tactical reconstruction of aircraft, airborne attacks, etc.

“That Marine team using unmanned submarines from ARG / MEU, dozens of unmanned submarines. You can use them as sensors, perhaps to combat submarines; you can do counterintelligence with this and find mines, “said the commandant.

“They could be weapons themselves,” he added. “We can also use unmanned surface ships from the deck of the well, for both [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and for fires. You can do it for logistics. “

However, this is the future of the size of the fleet of amphibious ships.

The Marine Corps has repeatedly said it needs at least 31 ships: 10 large amphibious assault ships that can carry vertical take-offs with fixed wings and 21 smaller amphibious transport docks and landing craft that can to carry surface connectors and helicopters.

Berger told Defense News at a May 5 roundtable at the Pentagon that the actual number needed to meet operational requirements is at least 31 and growing.

“To do what we have to do in our daily campaigns, to react to the crisis, to fight the war – everything that comes together is equal to the results of this study,” Berger said. “You will not be surprised by the result: no less” than 31.

Berger and other leaders have said in the past that more than 50 landing craft would be needed to meet all these needs if the Marines had to comply with all requests from combat commanders for amphibious forces.

The Marines have clarified that they need at least 31 traditional amphibious ships and at least 35 light amphibious warships to operate in the 2030s with an acceptable level of risk in line with their new concepts.

However, the Navy’s long-range shipbuilding plan calls for 10 amphibians to be withdrawn in the next four years alone, reducing the number of amphibians to 25. The amphibious fleet will only increase to 43 or 48 amphibians – the service says no mix from traditional larger amphibians and the new small LAW – under two fleet options based on the fleet’s top line, which only grows with inflation. A third option in the shipbuilding plan, which includes a modest increase in costs and industry capacity, limits to a total of 60 amphibians, which still does not meet the requirements of the Marines.

Representatives Joe Courtney and Rob Whitman, chairman of the Democratic Party and a Republican member of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Naval Forces and Projection Forces, released a legislative language on May 10 that will require the Navy to maintain at least 31 traditional amphibians in the military. .

Watson drew attention to the effect of the number of ships on the work of the Warfighting Lab on the updated concept, telling Defense News that “the composition and capacity of the future amphibious fleet affect the way we use this amphibious force of the future.”

Berger, during the round table on May 5, said: “We are biased because this is our battle platform, but my opinion is that there is no other class of ships that has the flexibility, agility, to be able to cope with the most -Wide range of missions, no other class of ships other than landing warships. It’s not good to have them, they are essential to what the nation needs from us. “

To live within the budget

Hackel, during a roundtable on May 6, said the Marines had seen some disappointments in the 2023 fiscal budget for amphibious ships, the new light amphibious warships program, which will help the new naval coastal regiment move other ships that could serve as substitutes for LAW in the short term until the postponed date of introduction of LAW.

The budget request will cancel the San Antonio amphibious transport dock program for only 15 ships in a planned 22-ship program, although the production line is mature and in high demand by Marines and global combat commanders. The budget for the 23rd financial year further postponed the start of the light amphibian program until the beginning of the 25th financial year for budgetary reasons.

And he proposed the decommissioning of 24 ships, 16 of which before the end of their planned service life. The list of ships facing early retirement includes four Whidbey Island-class landing craft, as well as two Montford Point Expeditionary Transport Docks (ESDs), which Haeckle said the Marines saw as a surrogate platform for the delayed light amphibian.

Marine leaders told Defense News about a plan to use other platforms – some as small as landing craft from ship to shore, and others as large as the expedition base, which is a repeat of ESD design – to work through experimentation and training before the light amphibian reaches the fleet.

While expeditionary naval bases are in high demand, expeditionary transport docks – which do not have a large pilot deck at the top of the ship but ballast in the water to allow surface connectors to come and go while you are at sea – have not been used much in recent years and would be a good opportunity ship for Marines.

Hackle told reporters last week that the Marines were interested in anything that could take the Marines to the sea and contribute to the war, but he acknowledged that the Navy Ministry should consider a larger portfolio “and unfortunately everything eventually returns to the money. ”

Major General Eric Austin, who heads Hackel’s Capabilities Development Directorate, told a roundtable last week: “LAW is a very real requirement. It will be too late to be needed depending on where we are in the resources, but we are considering a combination of platforms that will be this connecting solution. “

In addition to using other Navy ships, such as the Expeditionary Naval Base and Expeditionary Fast Transport Ships, Austin and Hackel said the Marines have a civilian stern landing craft – the original inspiration for the light amphibian – under contract with Louisiana-based Hornbeck. Offshore Services. This ship will deliver to the Marines in San Diego this summer and will immediately be sent to the 3rd Marine Coastal Regiment in Hawaii for experimentation.

The generals said they could contract for another stern landing ship, and the service is also in talks with other manufacturers of similar ships, including Australia-based Sea Transport Solutions.

Megan Eckstein is a Navy War reporter for Defense News. It covers military news from 2009 with a focus on US Navy and Marine operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when recording stories from a ship. Megan is a graduate of the University of Maryland.

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https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2022/05/11/marines-to-update-amphibious-ops-concept-amid-uncertainty-over-future-ship-count/

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