Navy leaders told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Navy needs more amphibious ships to transport Marines.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the committee that the Navy and Marine Corps are well short of their service requirement of 38 forcible entry amphibious assault ships during a March 27 posture hearing.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told the committee the Navy currently has 29 amphibs.
Amos said there is currently a gap in the Mediterranean because so many Marine Expeditionary Units and Amphibious Ready Groups are in the Central Command area of responsibility.
"There's no question that we would like to have more amphibious ships. I'd like to have 50-plus amphibious ships," Amos told lawmakers.
The senior leader comments came in response to questions from Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who read a letter from former Marine senior leaders about the need for funding and construction of amphibs.
The letter, signed by 20 former Marines including former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway and retired Gen. James Mattis, former head of U.S. Central Command, says funding for amphibs has been inadequate.
"Experience over the past decade demonstrates that the demand for amphibious warships will not decrease. These swiss-army knives of the sea have proven to be much more than just troop transports -- their ability and interoperability with our allies have caused them to serve as the cornerstone of America's visible forward presence," the letter states.
The letter also states that the Navy and Marine Corps should build a 12th LPD-17 amphib vessel, criticizing the decision to only build 11 due to budget constraints.
The former Marines also want a new dock landing ship, now being developed through an analysis of alternatives by the Navy, to be based upon the LPD-17 San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock design.
"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 LXR deliveries while also ensuring the health of our amphibious warship industrial base and labor force," the letter says, according to the U.S. Naval Institute website.
Navy officials have said that the LXR amphib design could be a new design or a configuration of several existing ships such as the existing LSD 41/49 dock landing ship or LPD-17.
While the overall Navy and Marine Corps requirement is currently slated at 38 amphibs, Mabus told the committee that the Navy and Marine Corps have agreed that the requirement can be met with 33 ships so long as at least 30 are available at any given time. Mabus added that global need for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and work with partners and allies creates a circumstance wherein more amphibs are needed.
"One of the things we're doing to try to mitigate that is using other types of ships to do certain missions that amphibious ships have done in the past. The Joint High Speed Vessel can move Marine Corps equipment rapidly and across wide areas," Mabus said.
The Navy plans to acquire a total of 10 Joint High Speed Vessels -- rapid, shallow-water capable troop and equipment transport vessels that can move up to 600 tons of tanks, trucks, vehicles and other items across the ocean at speeds up to 35 knots.
Mabus also referred to several additional expeditionary ships now under development, such as the Navy's Mobile Landing Platforms and Afloat Forward Staging Bases -- each designed to perform amphibious and expeditionary functions.
The MLP is a massive 80,000-ton, 785 foot-long commercial Alaska-class crude oil carrier configured to perform a range of military missions, such as amphibious cargo on-load/off-load and logistics support. The ship is engineered to ballast down and lower into the water. This allows three Landing Craft Air Cushion, or LCACs, lanes for amphibious loading and unloading as well as equipment transport.
Afloat Forward Staging Base, or AFSB, includes a re-configured MLP with command and control technologies and a flight deck added on for maritime air operations, Navy officials said.
So far, the Navy plans to acquire two MLPs and three AFSBs. The first two MLPs, the USNS Montford Point and the USNS John Glenn, have already been built. MLP 1 cost $500 million and MLP 2 cost $440 million, Navy officials said.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@monster.com.