Top Marine to Fight for More Amphibs After Navy Budget Leaves Them Out

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller, 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks to Marines aboard the Kearsarge, in the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 23, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Andre Dakis, 26th MEU Combat Camera)
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller, 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks to Marines aboard the Kearsarge, in the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 23, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Andre Dakis, 26th MEU Combat Camera)

The Navy's 2020 budget has more ship-building funds than the service has seen in decades, but it also cuts money for the vessels that bring Marines to the fight.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Wednesday that he'll talk to members of Congress about the lack of funding for the warships and the effect that could have on national security.

The National Defense Strategy makes it clear that Marines and sailors must be prepared to compete with China in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

"It's a maritime theater and ... we have a Marine Corps that comes from the sea," Neller said. "But we can't come from the sea if I don't have a way to get underway."

The Navy budget scraps plans for a multiyear contract on the new LPD Flight II amphibious transport dock ships, set to replace the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships. Instead, the budget includes plans for one ship buy in 2021 and another in 2023.

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Marine leaders say they need 38 amphibious warfare ships to conduct operations around the world -- half a dozen more than the Navy has now. Pushing the amphibious ship buys back beyond the year 2024 will make it harder for the service to meet that mark.

Neller said he plans to speak with the leaders of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee about the plans. But he added that he recognizes there are always competing requirements.

The Navy's 2020 budget also includes plans to retire an aircraft carrier early, rather than paying to refuel its nuclear reactor core. The money saved would be used to pay for new technologies, Navy officials said this week, but the concept is already facing pushback from members of Congress.

"I've always prided myself on being a member of the Joint Chiefs, but I'm also the commandant," Neller said. "... I've got to be able to make the case to move [up the timeline] or increase the number of amphibs -- that it's a better value for your dollar than buying something else."

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters this week the Navy will get to 36 amphibious ships, which is "pretty close to the requirement of 38."

Neller said his service will work through the delays, and he's preparing to make the case for getting more amphibious ships to transport Marines around the world.

"I'm willing, at the appropriate time, to express my opinion on that," Neller said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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