How do you squeeze two Marine Expeditionary Brigades onto 33 amphibious ships when they really need 38? You make them shed the weight they gained over the past seven years fighting on IED strewn battlefields, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway yesterday in an editorial board with Military.com.
Lifting two full MEBs with their mounds of equipment, up-armored vehicles and aircraft requires 38 amphibious ships; the current shipbuilding plan gives the Marines 33. Conway wants a return to the days when the Marines weren’t viewed as a second land army and he is determined to shoehorn two MEBs onto those 33 amphibs.
Today’s Marine battalions are much heavier than the battalions Conway took across the Kuwait border into Iraq in 2003: “heavier because we’re defending against IEDs, heavier because with a large vehicle comes a large weapons station, heavier because we’re carrying so much more communications equipment.” Marine platoons conducting distributed operations today in Afghanistan have as much communications gear as is typically found in a battalion, he said.
All this comes, he made clear, from Conway's determination to restore the Corps to its traditional role for which it trains and equips, that of expeditionary door-kicker.
Where will the weight savings come from? He’s looking at vehicles as the main culprits in overloading his Marines, singling out the massive MRAPs and the planned Army-Marine Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program. He also noted that the V-22 is heavier than its predecessors.
The original JLTV concept was to produce a light vehicle, but now the Army is looking at a 20,000 pound-plus version. That won’t cut it, Conway said. He wants a vehicle closer in weight to the 8,000-pound Humvee, and he is trying to get “light” back in as a key performance parameter for the JLTV.
“We want to shift the mentality a little bit and say heavy is not always better when you’re trying to be fast and austere.” But industry says they’re still at least five years from building a composite armored vehicle with the same protection as steel armor, Conway said.
One vehicle the Marines really like is called the Small Combat Tactical Vehicle Capsule (SCTVC), it’s a bolt-on armored capsule that fits onto the existing Humvee chassis, giving it MRAP level protection from IEDs and mine blasts. The Marines have awarded Textron a contract for three Humvee test vehicles, and Conway said it performed well in early blast testing and could end up as an alternative to the JLTV.
A recent post over at the Navy-centric Information Dissemination blog illustrated the Marine’s weight gain problems. According to Lt. Col. Roger Galbraith, Marine units have so many more vehicles that even if they were to get the 38 amphibs ships they want, they would still be forced to leave vehicles behind.
To make his point, he provided the following illustration:
Old Vehicle: M151 Jeep: 3,000 lbs. Currents ships designed around: M998 Soft-door HMMWV: 5,000 lbs Currently used on the ground: Up-Armored HMMWV: 7,600 lbs Future vehicle, Joint Light? Tactical Vehicle: 22,000 lbs