Free Article to AWIBC Members – Assistant Commandant: Marines Need to Ask for More Amphibs Despite Tight Budgets

Defense Daily | 01/16/2014 | Megan Eckstein

The Marine Corps assistant commandant lamented the shortfall of amphibious ships in the Navy’s current fleet and upcoming shipbuilding plans, saying it forced both the Marine Corps and the Navy to respond to situations with “opportunistic and kind of crisis-response solutions” rather than with the preferred three-ship Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit setup.

Speaking at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference in Arlington, Va., Gen. John Paxton spoke about recent events in which Marines had to self-deploy on V-22s and KC-130s instead of on ships like they should have.

Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John Paxton
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John Paxton

In recent months, the Navy/Marine Corps team has responded to crises in Uganda and South Sudan, but in both cases the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Crisis Response team deployed by aircraft from ground locations instead of off the deck of an amphib, opening the door to logistical problems and sovereignty issues.

Paxton called the responses in Africa “a case study about the flexibility and the readiness of the Navy Marine team” but added that the response was “green-heavy.”

“It was illustrative also of a gap and a chink in our armor in that we really would have been better off and done it more responsively if we had more amphibs,” Paxton told the crowd. “To have more amphibs would be proof-positive of why the Navy/Marine team, working from a feet-wet proposition and not having to worry about sovereignty and not having to worry about overflight, could deliver those very things that the combatant commander needs.”

Paxton also noted the massive military response to the super-typhoon that slammed into the Philippines in November–but the Marines again responded without the support of ships. Marines deployed from Okinawa, Japan, in their V-22s and KC-130s within six hours of receiving an execute order. But, Paxton added, “we were constrained by amphib shipping. Because the ships out there doing great things, they were bringing back the 31st ARG/MEU from deployments elsewhere, and the ships had turn-time to get into the yards and get maintained”

What Paxton was alluding to was the fact that the three amphibs stationed with the Marines in Japan were undergoing repairs when the typhoon hit. The first ship the Navy could deploy was an aircraft carrier, which was not as ideally suited to carry out the humanitarian assistance mission, a defense official told Defense Daily. It took several days for the amphibs to finish their repairs and prepare to deploy, and they relieved the aircraft carrier after days of it sitting off the coast of the Philippines to support airlifting supplies and water generated on the ship.

Paxton noted in his speech that the Marine Corps would have to face a shortfall in its amphib inventory before finally climbing out of the “bathtub” in the late 2020s. But, he added, “even in a fiscally constrained environment, we have to articulate the need for amphibs in the days ahead.”

Asked how the Marine Corps could try to generate support for additional ship buys, Paxton did not seem optimistic.

“In a perfect world, the blue/green team would buy more amphibs. But again, they’d buy more subs and buy more aircraft and buy more carriers too,” he said. “We realize these are hard decisions that institutionally the [chief of naval operations] and the [secretary of the Navy] have to make.”

He said he believed the Marine Corps would need to continue to rely on its two Special Purpose MAGTFs to fill in the gaps in its capability set, and the Navy would do the same with inventive ideas such as turning a to-be-retired ship or an inexpensive Mobile Landing Platform into a flexible Afloat Forward Staging Base to increase the responsiveness of the force to combatant commander requests.