Amphibious Ship Building
Forcible entry from the sea remains the Marines' forte. The goal of the naval services is to ensure a credible amphibious capability is ready when the nation says, "land the landing force." The Marines continue to work with the Navy to reach the resource constrained, programmatic goal of a 2.5 Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) equivalent in amphibious lift. The requirement remains at 3.0 MEB equivalents. As of 1999 the active commissioned amphibious fleet force structure could only lift 2.07 MEB equivalent of vehicles. This active lift shortfall is meant to be mitigated by the Amphibious Lift Enhancement Plan (ALEP) which retains 2 LSTs in the Naval Reserve Fleet and 4 LSTs/5 LKAs in mothballs. This ALEP is not a very good solution to sealift requirements due to time constraints of 180 days to prepare mothballed ships to get underway. This fact precludes them from participating in Major Theater of War (MTW) operational plans and, in the unlikely event the ships do become available, their characteristics will be inconsistent with the OMTFS concept.
The Amphibious Lift Enhancement Program (ALEP) LKAs and LSTs will be phased out as the LPD-17 enters the Fleet. In addition to its vehicular square capacity, the LST is the only assault platform capable of employing the Amphibious Assault Bulk Fuel System (AABFS). The delivery of fuel ashore is a critical aspect of an amphibious operation, which makes the capability of the LST unique.
The current modernization plan will provide amphibious lift for 2.5 Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB) equivalents. The future 36-ship amphibious force is being shaped to allow the formation of 12 amphibious ready groups (ARGs) to meet forward-presence, contingency, and warfighting requirements. Ultimately, the amphibious force will be composed of 12 LHA/Ds, 12 LPD 17s, and 12 LSD 41/49s; capable of forming 12 ARGs (or operating independently when necessary) and lifting 2.5 MEB equivalents in all five lift parameters (vehicle square foot stowage, cargo cubic capacity, troop capacity, vertical take off and landing capacity, and LCAC capacity).
The US Navy's responsibilities under the National Security Strategy is defined primarily through the Global Naval Force Presence Policy (GNFPP). The opening sentence of the GNFPP states that USCINCCENT, USCINCPAC, and USCINCEUR each has a requirement for continuous carrier battle group and amphibious ready group (ARG) with embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (special operations capable)(MEU (SOC)) presence within their areas of responsibility. The Navy has not had the force structure necessary to meet this requirement for several years. Therefore, the GNFPP apportions the available CVBGs and ARG/MEU(SOC) assets among the Unified Commanders so that, on average, there are approximately 2.5-2.75 CVBGs and 2.5-2.75 ARG/MEU(SOC) forward deployed at all times.
The 2.5 MEB amphibious lift goal is a fiscally constrained level, and the full Marine Corps amphibious lift requirement for many years has been a force of 3.0 MEBs. A 3.0-MEB fleet would require a 14-ARG, 43-ship amphibious force, with the 7 additional ships consisting of 2 large-deck (i.e., LHD-type) amphibious ships, 3 San Antonio (LPD-17) class dock landing ships, and 2 LSD-type dock landing ships.
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