When Typhoon Haiyan rampaged through the Philippines last year, the Marine Corps should have had four amphibious ships ready to depart from Sasebo, Japan. All four were tied up in maintenance, and only two of those ships eventually deployed to the country.
This scenario is emblematic of the Navy's shortfall of amphibious ships, but it is just one of many examples, said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh, director of the expeditionary warfare division.
In order to meet operational requirements, the sea services are working to increase ship readiness and evaluating whether they can employ noncombatant ships to take on some of the roles of amphibs. But there are no easy short term solutions, Navy and Marine Corps officials told National Defense.
Amphibious ships are among the most highly demanded vessels in the Navy's fleet, according to Expeditionary Force 21, the Marine Corps plan for its future force. They can support sailors and Marines for extended periods and are outfitted with flight decks and command-and-control infrastructure.
"Amphibious ships are more than transports. ... They are versatile, interoperable warfighting platforms capable of going into harm's way and serving as a cornerstone of America's ability to project power and respond to a range of crises," the plan states. "They are critical in providing seabased forces in theater to build partners and relations in key regions, deter aggression, defeat and deny sanctuary to terrorists, respond to crises and contingencies, and project power and influence."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert has said the Navy would need more than 50 amphibious ships to meet all the demands of combatant commanders. The Marine Corps stated requirement is 38 amphibious ships, but the service has agreed to accept risk with a fleet of 33 warships with 30 operational, according to EF21. An inventory of less than 33 poses "unacceptable risk" to the service's ability to maintain continuous presence.
The service has only 32 amphibious vessels currently, and will be down to 31 by the end of the fiscal year.
Fueled by the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and continued demands in the Middle East, Marines--and the amphibs that carry them--remain highly engaged in missions around the world, Walsh said.
The Marine Corps is needed for everything from disaster relief to training exercises, but few partner countries are open to the service establishing a permanent presence on their soil. "It's kind of like, get in...