The Marines are weighing whether to have members hitch a ride on foreign warships, citing a shortage of U.S. Navy vessels due to recent budget cuts -- raising bipartisan security concerns about the leverage this could give other countries.
A key concern is whether a warship from a host nation could deny Marines permission to come ashore.
"Ceding our amphibious ships to other countries -- it's almost silly and I can't believe it is even an option for the Navy," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who served as a Marine in Iraq. "Now we are going to have to ask other countries, much less financially stable countries than America, to loan us their ships so that we can base our Marines on their ships. It's almost embarrassing."
The Navy currently has 30 amphibious transport ships to carry Marines, but estimates it would need 38 to cope with rising crises across North Africa. It won't reach that number until 2028 under current budget constraints.
"We are a maritime nation, and we communicate across the world through our sea services, and ... the size of the Navy right now is way too low," said former Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who is weighing a presidential run. Webb was a decorated Marine infantry officer in Vietnam and was appointed Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan.
"It was 568 ships when I resigned as Secretary of the Navy. It's down to about 280 right now," he said.
Since 1775, the U.S. Marine Corps has prided itself on being a self-reliant expeditionary force from the sea. Currently, there are thousands of Marines deployed on U.S. warships around the world who are ready to go ashore at a moment's notice.
In recent years, there have been situations -- like the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi -- that made clear that quick reaction forces were not close enough to be able to help. In the wake of Benghazi, the Marines set up a land-based hub in Rota, Spain, but even that is thought to be too far from certain sites in North Africa.
"We don't know when a crisis will come, or where it will occur, but an initiative that increases the interoperability of maritime forces will prove of enormous benefit in the years to come," Lt. Col. Gregory P. DeMarco, Marine Forces regional planner for Europe and Africa, said in a statement defending the latest proposal.
The current plan would place about 100 Marines onboard allied warships, along with three or four Osprey tilt rotor aircraft.
No decision has yet been made by the Marines, who are currently considering the proposal.