A sailor watches amphibious assault vehicles depart the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship New Orleans while traveling the Pacific. The Navy and Marine Corps' top officers want to place Marines on more vessels, including destroyers and littoral combat ships. (MC3 Dominique Pineiro / Navy)
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The top Navy and Marine officers recently unveiled their blueprint for future amphibious battles, declaring the time has come to sweep away outdated hierarchies and partner more closely, including the possibility of dispatching Marines to more types of warships.
Officials are looking at vessels outside of traditional amphibious ships to carry Marines, an arrangement that provides fleet bosses more options in a crisis. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Commandant Gen. Jim Amos have ordered their services to assess and “experiment” with putting Marines aboard destroyers, littoral combat ships, mobile landing platforms, joint high speed vessels and perhaps even dry cargo ships, according to their article published in the June issue of Proceedings magazine.
Among the Corps’ highest priorities is replacing its aging fleet of landing vehicles, such as the assault amphibious vehicle that has been in use since the Vietnam War. By the time the Marines field a viable AAV-replacement, the ones Marines use will be a half-century old.
“Ladies and gentleman, there is not one of you out there that is driving a car that is 50 years old,” Amos told the crowd of contractors, staffers and think-tankers at a July 11 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “Not one of you. You wouldn’t get on an airliner that’s 50 years old. So it has to be replaced.”
Their plans include rethinking their amphibious partnership. Since the days of World War II, the Navy and Marines have employed rigid command lines to oversee joint amphibious operations: The Navy commander oversees the fleet and delivering Marines to shore, and the Marine commander establishes the beachhead and assumes tactical control from there. Their authorities are clearly delineated.
But as Marines go back to sea, officials say it’s time for a more cooperative approach.
“I’m thinking about stodgy, constipated command relationships where ‘This is my turf,’” Amos said. “We can’t do that. This is a ‘What do you need? How can I help?’” approach.
The new approach hinges on exercises to build amphibious landing skills that have dropped in the past decade. But real take-the-beach events, like the massive 2012 Bold Alligator exercise, are pricey.
“Exercise money is becoming very competitive right now; that’s the reality,” Amos said. “It hasn’t come to roost yet, but it will.”
Leaders are also thinking about the future fleet. Marines need lighter vehicles. Mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, which can weigh more than 14 tons, would likely buckle a ship’s deck, Amos said. The Navy, meanwhile, is focused on building more “trucklike” ships better configured to support Marines.
Another option is making more use of mobile landing platforms that can forward-stage helicopters and more forces.