For the second year in a row, the Marine Corps is asking Congress for an amphibious warship the Navy doesn’t plan to buy.
At the top of the Marines’ Fiscal Year 2024 unfunded priorities list is $1.7 billion for LPD-33, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock that the Navy did not include in its five-year budget outlook released last week. While the amphibious warship is the top priority for the Marine Corps, the funding comes out of the Navy’s shipbuilding account.
The $3.6 billion wish list from the Marine Corps also asks for $1.085 billion for its Force Design 2030 initiative – which includes $93 million for “initial and outfitting spares” for the Marines’ CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter, $253 million for two more KC-130J aircraft and spares and $36.4 million for one KC-130J Weapon Systems Trainer and spares. All of that money would come out of the Navy’s aircraft procurement account. The wish list also asks for $122.4 million in aircraft procurement funding for four more engines and lift systems for the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, plus spare parts.
Also under the Force Design section of the wish list is $160 million for four AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR Radar systems, $206.3 million for Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) and trailer and $5.1 million for Joint All Domain Command and Control. The funding for those items would come out of the Marine Corps’ procurement account.
The wish list also asks for $116.8 million for other modernization efforts, including $67.5 million for three UC-12W Beechcraft King Air 350ER with spare parts and the cargo door. The rest of the list is seeking $757.6 million for military construction items, which includes $227.4 million to update Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s water reclamation facility and $145 million for Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point’s low altitude air defense maintenance and operations facilities.
The Marine Corps’ unfunded priorities list and the Navy’s budget forecast show a continued divide in the Pentagon over the future procurement of amphibious ships. Last year, the Marine Corps put $250 million in advanced procurement funding for LPD-33 at the top of its wish list. This followed the Navy’s announcement in the FY 2023 budget rollout that it would end LPD-17 Flight II procurement after buying LPD-32.
Congress ultimately supported the Marine Corps, including the $250 million in advanced procurement for LPD-33 in the FY 2023 spending and policy bills. Despite receiving the advanced procurement funding from lawmakers, the Navy again zeroed out funding for LPD-33 and the LPD-17 Flight II line in its FY 2024 Future Years Defense Program.
Navy officials say the halt to the LPD-17 Flight II line is so the service can perform studies to assess both the capabilities and numbers of amphibious ships the service needs and to evaluate cost savings.
Last week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger spoke at the same Washington, D.C., conference where they presented two different views of costs associated with buying the LPDs.
“Congress has given us the authorities in the latest [National Defense Authorization Act] to do a bundle buy and we all agree that that’s the way that we ought to go after these ships. But to go after a single ship in ‘25, and put that in the budget now – based on where we are with all this churn on cost and so forth and this concern about the cost of those ships – it’s like telling a car dealer, ‘hey I really want to buy that minivan. I’m going to buy that minivan. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and talk about price,’” Gilday said.
“It’s not going to drive down the price of that ship. It needs to be competitive. Actually, with that production line and that ship, it’s not competitive. One company builds it,” he added.
But Berger cited inflation as the reason why the LPDs have become more expensive and argued the Navy likely won’t find more cost savings because in 2014 it chose to to pursue the Flight II line over a new design to save money.
“For a year and a half, little by little, [we looked at] what could be pulled out of there but still do what we needed to do,” Berger said of the 2014 evaluation.
“So from my perspective, that thoroughness that I saw and all of the staff meetings and all that took us to the final Navy decision to go with the Flight II – all that made perfect sense. And there was a lot of head butting on every little detail. So I don’t know doing that again with the same ship – I don’t know what you find out that we don’t already know.”