Lawmakers, Marine Corps Commandant Argue for More Amphibs, Sooner
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — An array of pro-defense lawmakers argued strongly for the Marine Corps’ requirement for 38 amphibious warships and faulted the Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan for taking too long to reach that goal and for the gaps in construction they said would add to the cost and threaten the industrial base.
At the same forum sponsored by the amphibious warship industrial association Feb. 15, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller echoed the demand for 38 gators, but added that the industry must produce more capable and more survivable ships. “You got to give us good stuff,” he said.
The case for the long-standing requirement for 38 amphibious ships was advocated forcefully by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittees, and backed up by other Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
The two chairmen complained that the 30-year ship plan and the fiscal 2019 budget did not include either the 30th amphibious transport dock (LPD) or the first of the new LX(R) class of amphibs that is based on the LPD hull, and created a seven-year gap in construction of the next America-class amphibious assault ships, which would be LHA 9.
Wittman said the amphibious warship supporters had to push the appropriators to fund more ships.
“We must have dollars there to build LPD 30, or whatever you call it. We know how critical that ship is to get to 38 amphibs. We know what we need in the number of ships,” he added. “The cost-effective way to get there is serial production,” and “get off the up-and-down” pattern of procurement that adds to the price of each ship.
“We need to accelerate construction of LHA 9,” Wicker said.
The two chairman and other lawmakers who addressed the forum also complained that the shipbuilding plan did not get to the overall goal of a 355-ship battle fleet until the 2050s, and did not sustain that number.
They all warned that failure to sustain a steady pace of ship construction could force many of the smaller firms producing ship components to stop doing defense work.
Following the lawmakers, Neller noted that the new National Security and National Defense strategies reaffirm the need for a force that can come from the sea to project power ashore, which is a mission given the Marine Corps by law.
“You got to have ships to do that,” he said. “Our baseline requirement is 38 ships.” But he added, based on the combatant commanders’ requirements for the global force management plan, “if we met everyone’s demands, we would need about 50 ships.”
Neller agreed that building the needed ships would cost “a lot of money.” But he promised that the Marines are “going to do everything we can to get the best value for every dollar that you give us.”
Speaking to the industry representatives who made up the bulk of the audience in the Rayburn House Office Building conference room, Neller said, “your job is to give us a quality product. We owe you requirements. We owe you a steady funding stream. You got to give us good stuff.”
He repeated his warning that the growing military capabilities of China and other potential adversaries means the Navy-Marine Corps team is “going to have to fight to get to the fight.”
That means the amphibious ships must be more survivable, with greater offensive and defensive capabilities, but also must have better command and control technologies to take advantage of the fifth-generation F-35 strike fighters and to communicate from ship to the forces going ashore.
If he had to choose, Neller said, ‘I would trade the number of ships for capability.”
The commandant said the Marines would continue to use “alternative platforms,” such as support ships and the new expeditionary transport dock ships, for missions in noncontested settings, but “they don’t have the survivability you’re going to get with an amphib.”