Artist rendering of LPD-30
(Courtesy: Huntington Ingalls Industries)

While U.S. Navy/Marine Corps requirements call for 38 amphibious ships to support the simultaneous deployment of two Marine Expeditionary Brigades, the Navy has not budgeted for any such ships in its FY 2020 budget. The requirements call for 12 LHDs or LHAs, 13 LPDs, and 13 LSDs or LPD Flight II ships.

Delaying the build of new amphibious ships appears to have been a bill payer for higher Navy priorities, such as the Virginia-class attack submarine (SSN-774) and the service’s push for a new 10-ship “Ghost Fleet” of large unmanned surface vehicles (LUSVs) to add more sensors and weapons to the manned fleet.

“We know we have to compete against other capabilities,” Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said on Wednesday at the McAleese annual budget conference when asked about the Navy’s planned delay in buying new amphibious ships. The future budget plan calls for buying three amphibious ships out of 55 planned manned ships through FY 2024. Neller said that he would try to make the case with Congress this year to accelerate the buy of LPD Flight II ships from FY 2021 to FY 2020. The blueprint also calls for the Navy to buy another LPD Flight II ship in FY 2023. The Navy budget plan also delays the buy of the next amphibious assault ship, LHA-9, until 2024.

Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Ingalls Shipbuilding has said that “acceleration of LHA-9 enables a hot production line and a supplier base of 457 companies in 39 states to build this powerful warship and help the U.S. Navy attain its 38 amphibious-ship requirement.”

Huntington Ingalls added that while the Navy FY 2020 budget does not buy any amphibious ships, there is $247 million in the FY 2020 budget for long lead funding on LPD-31.

Last summer, the Navy awarded HII a $165.5 million contract for long-lead time materials and non-recurring engineering activities for the first LPD Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, LPD-30.

The Navy chose HII as the winner of the LX(R) replacement program in April last year. The company will build the next type of amphibious transport docks as Flight II San Antonio-class ships. The Flight II ships will replace the 12 aging Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry-class (LCD-41/49) amphibious ships.

The Flight II ships are to have better troop armory/weapons stowage and are to be able to support equipment like the new Textron [TXT] Ship-To-Shore Connector (SSC), the Sikorsky [LMT] CH-53K helicopter, and the MV-22 Osprey by Bell [TXT]-Boeing [BA].

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said at the conference that war fighting requirements factored into the Navy’s decision to delay the buy of amphibious ships.

“It’ll get to 36, which is pretty close to the requirement for 38,” he said. “If you want to think about the LPD, what we did there is that we have an SSN there in that year where the LPD was. We’re much further away from our war fighting requirement in SSNs than we are in amphibs, and so that was just a war funding priority. With respect to the LHA, we’re ready to accelerate that almost as fast as we can, but the ship builders are defining the pace of that right now as much as anything else. We’re working with them to see what’s in the art of the possible.”

The Gator Navy has 32 ships now, but aging ships will likely begin to leave the inventory by 2030.

In a hearing on Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Navy’s amphibious ships are “critical” for projecting power in the Pacific to deal with any threats from China.

Dunford, a Marine, added that “one of the traditional missions of the Marine Corps is seizing advanced Naval bases and if you look at the island chains and so forth in the Pacific as platforms from which we can project power, that would be an historical mission the Marine Corps has and one that is very relevant in the China scenario.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), whose home state includes Huntington Ingalls’ shipyards that build the Navy’s amphibious ships, chimed in asking if that also means “projecting power with Marines being transported by these amphibs?”

“That is correct senator,” Dunford replied.