Marines Struggle to Get Back to Sea

USMS Montford Point

Marine Corps planners talked up a new generation of ships and landing craft to get the force back to its traditional sea-to-shore mission while acknowledging that the money may not be there to meet their goals.

After more than a decade of ground war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Corps was determined to "re-establish our amphibious roots" with beefed-up Amphibious Ready Groups and a new Amphibious Combat Vehicle "to do forcible entry at a time and place of our choosing," Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, the deputy commandant for Combat Development, said Tuesday.

But the planning had to be "talked about within the constraints of a very tight and tightening fiscal environment" created by the Congressional sequester process that will cut $41 billion from defense spending in the current fiscal year, Mills said at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition panel on "Movement from Sea to Shore."

Two mobile landing platforms, a new type of ship that would be pre-positioned and serve as a floating base or transfer point for Marine forces, are under construction, said Maj. Gen. Timothy Hanifan, the Marines' director of Expeditionary Warfare. In March, the Navy christened the first mobile landing platform, the Montford Point.

The Navy was developing electro-magnetic rail guns that would double the range of naval gunfire support for landing forces, Hanifan said.

The Navy was also developing the Mark 6 patrol craft, an 85-foot boat with a Mark 38 25mm gun mounted forward boat, for river patrols and close-in support of Marine landing forces, said Rear Adm. Mark Handley, head of the Naval Construction Forces Command.

However, Mills said the need remains for more major amphibious ships to transport and support Marines in conflict zones ashore. Mills said 38 ships were needed for the mission, but "we know now we're chasing 30."

At an earlier luncheon, Marine Gen. John Paxton, the assistant commandant, said that "the amphibious capability is still a prime wartime capability" that requires big-deck ships to get Marines to the fight.

"We still hinge much of the Marine Corps' warfighting requirement on amphibs," Paxton said at a Navy League luncheon. "We cannot walk away from this."

For smaller missions, "we'll take smaller ships, we'll take JHSVs," Paxton said of the Joint High Speed Vessels that can take company-sized units ashore.

"But when they roll out the war plans, the unequivocal stated requirement is for survivable, thick-skinned big ships" such as those in Amphibious Ready Groups, including amphibious assault ships (LHA or LHD), amphibious transport docks (LPD), and landing ship docks (LSD).

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