Marines could not meet demand for influx to Europe due to pressure on amphibious fleet

A landing craft, Air Cushion, attached to Assault Craft Unit 4, lands the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), during a Marine Expeditionary Unit offload in support of a bilateral training event in Tromsø, Norway, April 12, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

As Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, the head of U.S. European Command requested that a Marine Expeditionary Unit and a ready amphibious ready group deploy early to Europe to guard against the expanding conflict.

But the Marine Corps couldn’t keep up with demand, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, deputy commander for combat development and integration, told the Senate Forces Sea Power Subcommittee today. armies.

Asked about the importance of the Marine Corps receiving advanced procurement funding for an amphibious warfare ship that the service recently listed as its top unfunded priority for the upcoming fiscal year, Heckl pointed to the recent scenario.

“As part of the force design, our ongoing requirement as the Marine Corps and by law is to be the crisis response force for the nation. Without these LPDs, sir, and the other traditional L-class amphibious amphibious warfare vessels, we cannot be here. And we are already struggling now. And the case and the point was the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit off the east coast,” Heckl told Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.), the subcommittee’s senior member.

According to Heckl, Gen. Tod Wolters, head of U.S. European Command, requested that the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group “get out early to be there as the Ukrainian situation evolved or evolved.” And we couldn’t get the ship out[s].”

“The way we typically did heel-to-toe deployments, the MEU should have been on duty and available for combat commander duties and they weren’t,” Heckl said.

The Navy currently has 31 active amphibious ships — which is the current Marine Corps requirement — in the fleet, according to the Naval Vessel Register. The total number of amphibious warfare ships is expected to drop to 24 by fiscal year 2024, according to the long-range shipbuilding plan the Navy released last week.

Two ships in the Kearsarge ARG – USS helicopter landing dock Kearsarge (LHD-3) and USS amphibious transport dock Arlington (LPD-24) – deployed with the embarked 22nd MEU on 16 March, nearly a month after Russia formally invaded Ukraine. USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), the ARG’s third ship, departed Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., March 28 to deploy with the ARG.

The Marine Corps maintains that it needs 31 large amphibious ships – 10 large-deck LHAs or LHDs and 21 LSDs or LPDs – to fulfill its missions. But the fiscal year 2023 budget request showed a split between the Marine Corps and Navy over amphibious ship requirements.

The Navy’s proposal wants to end the LPD Flight 17 II line early, with the service buying the LPD-32 as the last ship in fiscal year 2023. But the Marine Corps has put in $250 million in advanced procurement funding for the LPD-33 — a ship the Navy actually has no intention of buying — tops its annual congressional wish list.

Heckl told USNI News in an interview late last month that plans to end the LPD line, in addition to pressure from the Navy to remove four Whidbey Island-class landing ships during the exercise 2023, would bring the inventory of amphibious ships down to 25 ships within the next five years.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Jay Stefany, who currently serves as assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition, said the Navy’s amphibious vessel requirements study had just been completed. to end. The information process is ongoing, Stefany said, and the results will feed into the Navy’s new force structure assessment that will be associated with the new national defense strategy.

Mary I. Bruner