Bad News: The Marines' Amphibious Assault Ships Are in Trouble

David Axe

Key point: Landing ships are great but they aren't very well protected.

The incoming commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps is backing away from the service’s longstanding requirement for 38 dedicated amphibious assault ships.

The move could signal the beginning of a new approach to amphibious warfare for the world’s leading marine force.

New commandant Gen. David Berger is “willing to shed some key tenets of the Marines’ amphibious force-planning in recent years – including the demand for 38 amphibious warships to support a two Marine Expeditionary Brigade-sized forcible entry force,” Megan Eckstein reported for the U.S. Naval Institute.

Force-structure assessments in 2009 and 2016 affirmed the Marines’ requirement for 38 assault ships including LHA and LHD big-deck vessels and small-deck LSDs and LPDs.

The Navy in 2019 was short of the 38-amphib goal. The 32 ships currently in the fleet together can carry hundreds of jump jets, tiltrotors, helicopters, ACV armored vehicles, LCU landing craft and LCAC hovercraft as well as thousands of Marines.

“We will no longer use a ‘2.0 MEB requirement’ as the foundation for our arguments regarding amphibious ship building, to determine the requisite capacity of vehicles or other capabilities, or as pertains to the Maritime Prepositioning Force,”  Berger wrote. “We will no longer reference the 38-ship requirement memo from 2009, or the 2016 Force Structure Assessment, as the basis for our arguments and force structure justifications.”

A new force-structure assessment due to end in 2019 could reduce the number of traditional assault ships in the Marines require and instead include alternative vessels in the tally of ships that can support a beach assault.

“The global options for amphibs include many more options than simply LHAs, LPDs and LSDs,” Berger wrote. “I will work closely with the secretary of the Navy and chief of naval operations to ensure there are adequate numbers of the right types of ships, with the right capabilities, to meet national requirements.”

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