National Harbor, Md. – While Marine Corps leaders call for more amphibious vessels to help transition Marine assets to the Pacific, Military Sealift Command is offering to help.
The Marine Corps is reestablishing itself as a sea-based fighting force with its Expeditionary Force 21 concept that requires more hulls, especially amphibious ships. But with just 29 amphibs in the fleet – and plans to only grow that number by four in the next decade – it’s not enough, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos has said.
“To complement our Navy’s very capable amphibious ships we need to look at alternative platforms from which we can conduct some Marine Corps operations,” said Military Sealift Commander Rear Adm. Thomas K. Shannon.
Using ships of the sealift fleet, modifying them as necessary to accommodate Marines, their vehicles and even aircraft, would be consistent with Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox’s call to find ways to expand Navy presence by using the ships already available.
“[Military Sealift] has a host of platforms can be use in new and creative ways in support of Expeditionary Force 21,” Shannon said reiterating that sealift is a major part of sea basing.
The command has more than 100 ships in its fleet, among them maritime pre-positioning ships, medium- and high-speed vessels with vehicle roll on/roll off ability and a flight deck. The new Joint High-Speed Vessel Spearhead recently delivered a Marine response team for an embassy evacuation exercise, Shannon said.
The same ship, adapted for Marine use, could free up a larger, big-deck amphibious ship for more complex missions, he said.
Then there are the T-AKEs, dry cargo/ammunitions ships for Marine Corps prepositioning. These have a hangar that, with some modification to its doors, would house a MV-22 Osprey.
Among the newest ships coming online at Military Sealift are the Mobile Landing Platforms, which not only will have roll on/roll off ability, but a submersible deck that will enable craft to float on and off.
“We’re just starting to scratch het surface with what we can do with platforms like this,” Shannon said.
One example where this strategy has proven its worth is with the USS Ponce, a part of Sealift Command’s support fleet, he said. The amphibious transport dock ship-turned- interim Afloat Forward Staging was slated for decommissioning in 2012.
Now it’s going to being refitted to be the test bed for the Navy’s laser weapon, Shannon said.
“I can’t stress enough that Military Sealift Command would not try to replace the amphibious ships and what they can do ... but we simply can go out there and complement them,” he said.