Marines outraged by Navy plan for troopships

The disagreement raises questions about what direction the Pentagon leadership wants to take in building new amphibious ships to transport Marines and their equipment around the world as the Corps pivots to counter China after two decades in the Middle East. East.

It is the latest flare in a years-long debate over what kind of ships to build for the Marines, as policymakers try to chart a course for the future, in which Beijing has quickly emerged as a military and economic rival.

The Navy announced Monday that this year’s budget blueprint will not include money to fund the 17th San Antonio-class amphibious ship, a $1.6 billion vessel that will carry Marines and launch helicopters and watercraft.

The reason comes down to money, said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday Wednesday.

“The driving issue here that drove that decision had to do with cost,” Gilday said at the McAleese Defense Programs conference, explaining that it was the decision of the defense secretary’s office to have a “strategic pause” when buying and building amphibians. .

He noted that the unit cost of the first three ships belonging to the latest version of the ship class – called Flight II – has increased with each hull. “We’re going in the wrong direction,” he said.

On the same day Gilday spoke, Navy Commander General David Berger rejected the cost argument. “You could say that it is more expensive these days. Well, that also applies to a liter of milk, right, than last year. I’ve got it. But in basic dollars, I think the industry is driving that price down.”

The decision to halt ship funding is part of a broader review of the Navy’s amphibious ship programs ordered by the Pentagon to see if they align with broader policy goals. The Navy had only just submitted an amphibious plan to Congress in December, but the Pentagon ordered a new implementation and, much to the frustration of the Marine Corps, the Navy did little to push back.

“We just did a study and came up with a number [of ships]we would like to know what has changed in recent weeks,” which requires a new look, said a naval officer, who, like others quoted for this story, was given anonymity to speak candidly about an internal matter.

The Navy referred questions about the need for the new study to the Pentagon, and Pentagon officials did not respond to a request for comment.


In particular, the issue of the amphibious fleet has become a cornerstone for the navy as it struggles to modernize to meet China’s increasingly effective anti-ship capabilities, putting large vessels such as amphibians and aircraft carriers at greater risk.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro did not say at the McAleese conference that the agency is moving away from the amphibious ship program, but instead is pausing before putting money into the ship and any next-generation amphibious ships that the marines say they desperately need it.

Berger argued that the Navy is wasting a moment when the shipbuilding industry is ready to continue building ships. But now “we are going to take a time out. From my perspective, I cannot accept that when the inventory, the capacity should not be less than 31” vessels.

The number is a reference to the “bare minimum” of what the Corps says it needs to meet the Pentagon’s missions.

The actual number of hulls will drop to 24 this decade if Congress allows the Navy to proceed with plans it presented Monday to begin decommissioning some of the oldest ships without purchasing replacement ships.

The problem has real world implications. The Marines have said that twice in the past year the service was unable to deploy in emergencies due to a lack of ships. The first was when Russia invaded Ukraine and a Marine unit was unable to reach the region, and the second was in February when a unit was unable to deliver humanitarian aid after Turkey’s devastating earthquake.

The halting of production of the ship this week along with the Pentagon’s suppression of the Navy’s plans recalls a similar event in 2020, when then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper publicly rejected the Navy’s annual 30-year shipbuilding plan. and personally oversaw the writing of a new document released months later, in the dull days of the Trump presidency.

This split between the Navy and the Marine Corps is partial [the Pentagon’s] wrong,” said Bryan Clark, a retired naval officer who now works at the Hudson Institute.

The competing visions for the size and composition of the fleet revolve around how it will prepare to confront or deter China in years to come.

“The problem is that the need for large amphibians is largely based on peacetime presence needs, rather than wartime scenarios,” where amphibious operations are unlikely to be heavily deployed, Clark said. The Pentagon “has prioritized meeting needs for defending an invasion of Taiwan and other war scenarios over presence needs, so the need for large amphibious ships remains unmet.”

While strategies remain in flux, neither the Pentagon nor the Navy have been able to provide a detailed explanation as to why the December study had to be immediately reconsidered.

“If you want to kill a program, you order study after study and study it to death,” said a Senate aide.

Leaders throughout the Pentagon are “really at odds” over the issue of amphibious ships, and “combined with the strategic pause remarks, it really puts you in a place where you can understand that the anti-amphibious coalition is here is at the helm,” the assistant continued.


The amphibious plan, being worked on by the Navy, Marines and the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, is just one of three shipbuilding plans the Navy owes the Pentagon and Congress this year.

The annual 30-year shipbuilding plan, which must be submitted with the budget, is late for the second year in a row. However, Navy officials say it will be released in the coming weeks.

The Navy came under fire from Capitol Hill last year for releasing a 30-year plan document that offered three options instead of a single plan. Under that guidance, the first option would build a fleet of 316 ships by 2052, the second outlined a navy of 327 ships, and the third, which the agency said in the document the industrial base cannot currently support, would yield a 367-ship fleet. The first two options fell short of the congressional-mandated navy of 355 ships, which had maintained the service goal since 2016 but had made no progress toward achieving it.

Del Toro confirmed this week that he will again present a paper detailing the three options, and the new plan will also include a menu of options for Congress and Pentagon leaders to consider.

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Roger Wicker, said in a statement this week that “regardless of the favorite phrase of the day — ‘divest to invest’, ‘strategic pause’, ‘capacity over capability’ — the defense budget of the president is practically sinking our future fleet.” Wicker’s state of Mississippi is home to the Huntington Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, which builds the San Antonio class ships.

While the new $255 billion naval budget was the highest ever, “we’re not going to be swimming in money forever,” Gilday, the Navy’s admiral, said. “We have to start making some tough decisions.”

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