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The Marine Corps and Navy remain at an impasse over the future of the light amphibious warfare ship, as skepticism over the program’s viability mounts due to internal division, sources close to the program tell USNI News. .

While the Marines remain committed to their plan of nearly three dozen beachable ships that can transport units between islands and Pacific coasts, the Navy wants less. The 2022 Sailing Plan of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, unveiled at the end of July, provides for 18 laws.

“It’s obviously a big battle within the Marine Corps about where the Marine Corps is going and whether the Navy is really supporting LAW or not,” said a person familiar with LAW discussions.

But just last week, the Marine Corps said it wanted up to 35 LAWs to achieve its vision for operations in the Indo-Pacific, which would include smaller units moving between islands and establishing ad hoc bases from which they could draw. anti-ship missiles out of the chassis of a joint light tactical vehicle.

US Marine Corps Red Fires missile system.

“The light amphibious warfare ship is absolutely necessary – up to 35 of them. These ships allow the three [Marine] The Pacific Littoral Regiments are to move tonight, to move immediately to strategic choke points and strategic locations throughout the battlespace before action begins to conduct sea denial as part of of distributed maritime operations,” Deputy Commander Eric Smith told the Defense last week. Annual News Conference.

The disconnect between the two services on LAW comes after a contentious budget cycle in which the Navy and Marine Corps presented two different views on the future of large amphibious ships. The most recent bid for fiscal year 2023 also delayed the procurement of that fiscal year’s first LAW to fiscal year 2025, a move Marine Corps officials have repeatedly asserted as risky for the service and its strategy in The pacific.

“This risk is transmitted to the combatant commanders. So when you don’t have that light amphibious warfare ship for another year, that risk is absorbed by the combatant commander and the execution of [operational] plans,” Smith said last week.

The divide between the two services largely boils down to survivability, or the types of weapons and armor to place on a ship operating in the first island chain, within range of Chinese missiles.

Adding more weapons and armor to LAW makes the ship more expensive. Projections in 2020 called for each LOI to cost $100 million, a figure described as unrealistic by the person familiar with the program discussions. Now the Marine Corps wants the ship to cost around $150 million apiece so they can buy more, while the Navy is pushing for a tougher ship that would cost around $300 million apiece.

Landing craft under construction at Halter Marine on August 5, 2022. USNI News Photo

Differing views on cost may be behind the different number of laws the Navy and Marine Corps say are needed, said Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“At the top level, you have a lot of disagreements and even outright skepticism that we’re even going to continue the program. You have a lot of people working on what this ship should look like, what capabilities should it have, how many should it cost, how much could we buy, how are we going to use it,” Clark told USNI News.

“At lower levels you have a lot of activity, a lot of normal activity. And then at higher levels, I think there’s a lot of people who just feel like it’s never going to happen, that the Navy and the Marine Corps aren’t really going to reconcile their competing visions of the program and the constraints funding on the shipbuilding budget will prevent it from reaching launch,” he continued.

Work on the program continues with a requirements assessment team. Last year, the Navy issued five companies – Fincantieri, Austal USA, Halter Marine, Bollinger and TAI Engineers – design contracts. Austal USA has released a rendering of its LAW design and Halter Marine is already building LSTs – or Landing Ship, Tanks – which are beachable and can carry Marines and equipment.

Part of the debate over LAW’s survivability and affordability may relate to concerns over struggling past programs like the Littoral Combat Ship, which were not designed to operate in highly contested environments.

“Those are just two competing visions of what this ship does and I think the Navy probably won’t change their minds because ultimately they are responsible for the ship,” Clark said of LAW. “And they’ve already been burned with LCS when they tried to build a ship that was less durable than its predecessors.”

Dakota Wood, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a retired sailor, said issues of survivability and affordability may show different risk assessments between the two services.

“It would reveal the two different views on risk. You put a Marine unit on the ground, it must engage in close combat with an enemy. I mean, you just have to do this. And so there is a service culture that says we will assess the risk. We’re going to do everything we can to mitigate that risk — to reduce it — but you can’t eliminate it and it just comes with the combat territory on the ground that you’re going to lose people,” Wood said.

“On the navy side, they have a relatively small number of ships – and relative significance relative to the task, the size of the world, the number of ships you have in the water and all that – so each of those things are a pretty big percentage of naval power,” he continued. “You lose a ship, that’s a billion dollars plus investment, all the sailors on that ship. And so the Navy hasn’t had to operate in a real threat environment for a very long time.

While the services work out their differences on LAW, the Marine Corps uses a leased rear landing craft to experiment with how it might use the platform. Smith said the Marine Corps is leasing one and has a contract that could increase that number to two or three ships.

USNS Carson City (T-EPF-) entering the Black Sea on August 15, 2018. Photo by Yörük Işık used with permission

“What we expect from them is how is the charge going? What is your ability to move from point A to point B? What is your ability to hide electromagnetically and physically? How fast can you load and unload? Smith offered as questions to ask Marines to experience the leased rear landing craft. “What do you do to connect the fuel when you need fuel from a different source – KC-130 putting in fuel? What did you forget to bring with you? What was your supply chain like? And can you use this ship both to support you for organic mobility and can it be used for periods of time to support the joint force logistically? »

The Navy also presented the LCS, which frequently deployed to the Western Pacific, as an option for moving Marines into the region to conduct expeditionary forward base operations. Clark said the Expeditionary Fast Transport, or EPF, Landing Craft Utility and used Army personal watercraft could also fulfill some of the missions the Marine Corps envisions for LAW.

“You already hear about III [Marine Expeditionary Force] and out of [Marine Corps Combat Development Command] the fact that they are considering alternative and theoretically designed platforms to inform the LAW effort, but it could also identify ways to do this without necessarily having the dedicated LAW program,” Clark said.