Marines furious over Navy plan for troop carriers

The disagreement raises questions about the direction Pentagon leaders want to go 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. .

It’s the latest flare-up 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 become a military and economic rival. .

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

The reason is money, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday said Wednesday.

“The defining issue here that drove this decision was cost,” Gilday told the McAleese Defense Programs conference, explaining that it was the decision of the Secretary of Defense’s office to take a “strategic pause” in purchase and construction of amphibs. .

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

The same day Gilday spoke, Navy Commander Gen. David Berger dismissed the cost argument. “You could say it’s more expensive today. Well yes, a gallon of milk is as good, okay, as it was last year. Got it. But in base dollars, I think the industry is driving that price down.

The decision to suspend funding for the ships is part of a broader review of the Navy’s Pentagon-commissioned amphibious ship programs to determine whether they align with broader policy goals. The Navy had just submitted an amphibious plan to Congress in December, but the Pentagon ordered an overhaul and the Navy, to the frustration of the Marine Corps, did little to push back.

“We just did a study and found a number [of ships]we would like to know what has changed in the last few weeks” which requires a fresh look, said a Navy officer, who like others quoted for this story, was granted anonymity to speak candidly about an issue internal.

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.


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

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, speaking at the McAleese conference, did not say the service was moving away from the amphibious ship program, but rather was pausing before investing money in the ship and any next-generation amphibious vessel the Marines say they desperately need.

Berger argued that the Navy is wasting a moment when the shipbuilding industry is ready to continue building the ships. But now “we are going to take a time out. From my point of view, I cannot accept that during the inventory the capacity is at least 31 inches.

The number refers to the “bare minimum” of what the Corps says it needs to meet Pentagon tasks.

The actual number of hulls will drop to 24 this decade if Congress allows the Navy to follow through on plans it outlined on Monday to begin retiring some of the oldest ships without purchasing replacements.

The problem has real-world consequences. The Marines said twice in the past year the service has been unable to deploy in emergency situations due to lack of ships. The first time came when Russia invaded Ukraine and a marine unit was unable to get to the area, and the second was in February when a unit was unable to provide support. aid after the devastating earthquake in Turkey.

The ship’s production halt this week as well as the Pentagon’s hush-up of the Navy’s plans recall a similar event in 2020, when then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly rejected the annual plan. 30-year-old Navy shipbuilder and personally oversaw the drafting of a new document that was released months later, during the lame duck days of the Trump presidency.

This split between the Navy and the Marine Corps “is partly [the Pentagon’s] fault,” according to Bryan Clark, a retired Navy officer now at the Hudson Institute.

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 great need for amphibians is based largely on peacetime presence requirements, rather than combat scenarios,” where amphibious operations would likely not be heavily utilized, Clark said. The Pentagon “has prioritized the defense needs of an invasion of Taiwan and other war scenarios over presence needs, so the needs for large amphibious ships are not being met.”

While the strategies remain in flux, neither the Pentagon nor the Navy were able to offer a detailed explanation of why the December study required an immediate overhaul.

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

Pentagon leaders are “really at loggerheads” on the amphibious ship issue, and “coupled with the strategic pause comments, it really gets you to a place where you can understand that the anti-amphibious coalition is in command of that this.”, the assistant continued.


The amphibious plan, which the Navy, Marines and the Pentagon’s Cost and Program Assessment Office are working on, 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 behind schedule for the second consecutive year. Navy officials say it will be released within the next few weeks, however.

Last year, the Navy came under fire from Capitol Hill for releasing a 30-year plan document that offered three options rather than just one plan. According to this guidance, the first option would build a fleet of 316 ships by 2052, the second sketched a navy of 327 ships and the third, which the service stated in the document that the industrial base is currently unable to take over, would result in a fleet of 367 ships. -fleet of ships. The first two options fell short of the congressional-mandated 355-ship navy, which the service had maintained as a goal since 2016 but had made no progress toward meeting it.

Del Toro confirmed this week that he will resubmit a document with the three options, and the new plan will also include a menu of possibilities for congressional and Pentagon leaders to consider.

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker, said in a statement this week that “no matter the favorite phrase of the day – ‘divest to invest’, ‘strategic pause’, ‘capability over capability’ – the President’s defense budget is, in practice, sinking our future fleet Wicker State of Mississippi is home to the Huntington Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, which builds the San Antonio-class ships.

While the Navy’s new $255 billion budget was the highest on record, “we’re not always going to be swimming in money,” said Navy Admiral Gilday. “We have to start making tough decisions.”

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