A constellation of twenty former U.S. Marine Corps generals — including a former commandant —wrote Congress to “highlight concerns,” on the health of the U.S. Navy’s amphibious forces and are throwing their support behind extending the San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious warship hull form beyond the Navy’s current plan of 11 ships.
“The challenges of diminished ship material readiness and the declining numbers of amphibious warships are interrelated and have cumulative effect on the nation’s ability to support strategic imperatives,” read the Tuesday letter signed by high profile former Marines including former commandant Gen. James Conway and former U.S. Central Command commander Gen. James. Mattis.
The generals asked Congress to fund a 12th San Antonio hull as a bridge to the Navy’s planned replacement for the Navy’s for the next generation dock landing ship (LX(R)).
The generals also asked Congress to fund increased maintenance and funds for LX(R) design work from the Overseas Contingency Operations account — the funds used on top of the regular budget to fund, among other needs, operations in Afghanistan.
“By using the proven LPD-17 design for a 12th warship we can leverage existing industry workforce and supplier relationships, thereby building a timely cost-effective bridge to LX(R) deliveries while also ensuring the health of our amphibious warship industrial base and labor force,” read the letter.
The generals framed their recommendations on the increasing demand of amphibious ships by combatant commanders and their utility for the military’s strategic presence.
Amphibious Ready Groups and their paired Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG/MEUs) rank near the top of combatant commanders request for assets.
The Navy and Marine Corps have stated the services need 38 amphibious ships to meet their combined requirements to effectively transport a force of two Marine Expeditionary Brigades — about 30,000 Marines — into a major combat operation.
However, budget pressures have reduced the Navy’s goal to 33 ships and the Navy and Marines will operate with their bare minimum of 30 ships until Fiscal Year 2018, according to a Wednesday Navy statement to the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee.
For its part, San Antonio builder Huntington Ingalls Industries praised the message in a Thursday statement provided to USNI News.
“We are pleased to see the recognition that the LPD class ships continue to perform well in the fleet, and we are enthused by the support to restore the 12th ship that was in the original LPD program plan of record,” read the statement.
“The hot LPD production line and strong supply chain support will enable us to respond quickly if the 12th LPD is funded.”
Representatives of HII said they provided limited information to the generals but did not actively lobby for its creation.
“It is their letter,” a company official told USNI News.
Current commandant Gen. James Amos has long advocated to replace the aging Whidbey Island (LSD-41) and Harpers Ferry (LSD-49) amphibious warships with a hull based on a LPD-17 design. He has also has made long standing calls for more amphibious lift to support the Marine Corps.
It’s unclear if Amos had a direct hand in the creation of the letter to Congress but several sources told USNI News it was unlikely the generals would have sent the letter to Capitol Hill without at least a “head nod” from the commandant.
Though not unprecedented, it’s rare for the number of former military general officers to band together to advocate for a broad policy shift.