WASHINGTON — At the top of the U.S. Marine Corps’ spending wish list for 2023 is funding for an amphibious warfare vessel that the U.S. Navy does not plan to purchase.
The Navy announced in its March 28 fiscal year 2023 budget request that it would purchase one final amphibious transport dock, LPD-32, and then end the production line.
The Marines’ number one item on the so-called unfunded priority list is $250 million in advanced procurement funding for the LPD-33.
Advanced procurement financing allows the contractor, in this case Ingalls Shipbuilding, to start purchasing materials and ship systems that take longer to deliver, in the expectation that the rest of the cost of the ship would be funded in a future year.
The two services clearly have different perspectives on the future of the amphibious force – which the Marines need to move, but the Navy has to pay for acquiring ships, crewing the ship’s company, maintaining and vessel upgrades and other costs.
Throughout the late 2010s, the Marines touted a need for 38 ships, although the Navy is discussing a budget constrained goal of 33 amphibious ships.
The Navy’s most recent long-range planning documents show an amphibious ship strength of 24 to 28. An amphibious ship requirement study, which is still underway and expected to be completed soon, will determine the exact requirements.
The Marines say that’s way too low.
The Marines say 31 ships — 10 amphibious assault ships that can carry fixed-wing jets and 21 LPD Flight I and Flight II ships that carry helicopters, connectors and ground equipment — is now the right number. 28, they argue, adds risk to their ability to respond to an emergency in a timely manner. The leaders did not explain what a force of 24 ships would mean for their operational and training plans.
It is unclear what will ultimately decide the fate of the LPD production line. Congress has been very supportive of the ship program in the past, continually adding ships to the registration program throughout the 2010s until the Navy decided to build another batch of 13 LPD Flight II ships. Now the Navy plans to reduce that to just three II flights. Lawmakers could side with the Marine Corps and add funding for the LPD-33, keeping the line at Ingalls Shipbuilding open for now despite an uncertain future.
Elsewhere on the list of unfunded priorities, the Marines also have $2.3 billion in spending to support the Force Design 2030 transformation effort.
This includes $456 million for 12 ground-to-air task-oriented radars, $358 million for three additional F-35B vertical takeoff Joint Strike Fighters; $313 million for three additional F-35C carrier variants, $253 million for two additional KC-130J transport and refueling aircraft, $250 million for two additional CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters and $117 million for joint light tactical vehicles and trailers.
This Force Design 2030 funding also invests in spare parts and trainers for the aircraft, research and development of an air traffic control function for the G/ATOR radar and the Marine Air Defense Integrated System (MADIS) Increment I.
The overall UPL also includes $120 million for MV-22 Osprey pod enhancement effort kits and a common configuration block upgrade program, digital interoperability efforts to connect forces in air and ground, extreme cold weather gear for reserve forces, and a range of construction projects to improve facilities such as barracks and hangars.
Megan Eckstein is a naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported on four geographic fleets and is happiest when recording stories from a ship. Megan is an alumnus of the University of Maryland.