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Marine Corps, Navy Remain Split Over Design, Number of Future Light Amphibious Warship, Divide Risks Stalling Program


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These look like really good landing craft....

The Marine Corps and Navy remain at an impasse over the future of the Light Amphibious Warship, as skepticism about the program’s viability mounts due to the internal division, sources familiar with the program have told USNI News.

While the Marines remain committed to their plan for nearly three-dozen beachable ships that can ferry units between islands and shorelines in the Pacific, the Navy wants fewer. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s 2022 navigation plan, unveiled in late July, calls for 18 LAWs.

“It’s obviously a big battle within the Marine Corps on where the Marine Corps’s headed and whether the Navy really supports LAW or not,” said one person familiar with the discussions on LAW.

But as recently as last week, the Marine Corps said it wants as many as 35 LAWs to achieve its vision for operations in the Indo-Pacific, which would include smaller units moving between islands and setting up ad-hoc bases from where they could fire anti-ship missiles off of the chassis of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

The division between the two services largely comes down to survivability, or what types of weapons and armors to place on a ship that would operate 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 LAW to cost $100 million, a number described as unrealistic by the person familiar with program discussions. Now the Marine Corps wants the ship to cost around $150 million a piece so it can buy more of them, while the Navy is pushing for a more survivable ship that would end up costing about $300 million each..

And this is where the Littoral Combat Ship went down the hole. And the Joint High Speed Vessel got transferred to the USNS.

The Marines want a transport. Like a floating Super Stallion. The Navy won't supply sailors unless the hull can fight.
That's crazy talk...
Really a very interesting capability. Back in the late 70's I was part of a staff tour visiting Fort Eustis and their Logistic branch's railroad and terminal battalion organizations. The ship to shore organizations with a variety of ships and boats were an eye opener as were all the hulls around the corner which were part of the Navy's reserve fleet.

There is a solution to this, hire the US Army to do it.

I believe the Army uses Warrant Officers to command those Landing Ships. Not Commissioned Officers.

I also believe that there is some crossover in design specs between the Light Amphibious Warship and the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel.

LUSV - "The Navy envisions LUSVs as being 200 feet to 300 feet in length and having full load displacements of 1,000 tons to 2,000 tons,"

LAW - "As it stands, LAW is “going to be between 200 to 400 feet long, roughly 3,000 to 4,000 tons and carrying [8,000] to 10,000 square feet of cargo."

"The services pitch LAW as a medium amphibious warship with a small crew that can haul 75 Marines from shore to shore without tying up the Navy’s larger amphibious ships for smaller operations, for the price tag of $150 million or less per hull."

There is not a world of difference between the LAW artwork and the reality of the LUSVs employed on RIMPAC this year.


Maybe the LUSV can morph into an Optionally manned vessel, designated as a boat and commanded by a Bos'n with a crew of 3 or 4.

Or perhaps it goes this direction and gets owned by Military Sealift Command


"MSC reports to the Department of Defense's Transportation Command for defense transportation matters, to the Navy Fleet Forces Command for Navy-unique matters, and to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition) for procurement policy and oversight matters.[6]"

The JHSV entered service because the USMC really liked Austal's Westpac Express

Westpac Express is capable of sustaining loaded speeds of 35 knots, and can rapidly deploy most of a marine battalion -- up to 970 marines plus vehicles and equipment -- in a single lift. The Military Sealift Command (MSC) first chartered her to operate with the III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) in July 2001 for a ‘proof of concept’ period, subsequently extending the charter. Originally described as a “theatre support vessel,” the MSC gradually shifted her role and now more commonly refers to Westpac Express as a “high speed connector.”

“Instead of a two week process to deploy by air lift,” CW05 Roger G. Rose, Surface Embarkation Officer, III MEF G-4, Strategic Mobility Office, evaluated one such deployment in 2006, “Westpac Express moved the unit’s 843 marines, 63 vehicles, and 27 containers of baggage and cargo in 30 hours. Instead of a price-tag of over $500,000 for one-way transportation requiring at least 16, C-17 airlifts, Westpac Express did the round trip lift for $130,000.”

That's crazy talk...

Just don't remind the US Marines who managed most of the amphibious training during WW2 ;)

Engineer Special Brigade​

At the onset of direct American involvement in World War II, it became apparent that the United States would need a large strategic and tactical amphibious warfare capability. In 1941, the amphibious forces were divided into two corps: one in the Atlantic, and one in the Pacific. Both were combined United States Army and United States Marine Corps commands, administered by the United States Navy. The Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet, consisted of the 1st Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division, while the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, consisted of the 3rd Infantry Division and the 2nd Marine Division.[1]

In April 1942, the United States and United Kingdom agreed on plans for an emergency invasion of Northwest Europe in the late northern summer of 1942 (Operation Sledgehammer) that would be conducted in the event of signs that the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, or that the Germans were withdrawing from Western Europe, possibly due to an internal coup or collapse. This would be followed by a full-scale crossing of the English Channel in mid-1943 (Operation Roundup). These were envisaged as shore-to-shore operations. The US Navy's policy at this time of only taking volunteers meant that it was short of manpower, and those personnel it had available were mainly allocated warships and the amphibious ships required for ship-to-shore operations. This meant that the landing craft for Sledgehammer would have to be operated by the British and the US Army.[2][3]

Textron getting into the game with a "novel" solution

A combination of a JHSV Catamaran and an LCAC - It is known to the trade as a Surface Effects Ship.

The Norwegians have been sailing them for a quarter century.


The Marine Corps’ Light Amphibious Warship Seems To Be Faltering. Here Is A Novel Solution.​

Loren Thompson

Feb 3, 2023,09:00am EST
When the Pentagon revised its defense strategy to focus on China in 2018, no military service moved faster than the Marine Corps to begin making changes.

Incoming Commandant General David Berger declared in his initial guidance the following year that Marines needed to be trained and equipped “to operate inside actively contested maritime spaces” in support of other naval forces.

This wasn’t a new mission for the Corps, but because the spaces Berger had in mind were first and foremost in the Chinese littoral, the potential danger was unprecedented.

China has been fielding increasingly capable antiship and antiaircraft missiles along its coast for some time, along with the overhead surveillance systems needed to find and track hostile forces.

An artist's conception of how SECAT would look in action.
Other nations are doing the same, but not on the scale of China’s efforts; combined with Beijing’s huge naval shipbuilding program, the new missiles and sensors present a potent anti-access posture designed to drive U.S. and allied navies out of Chinese waters.
General Berger figured that in such circumstances, the logical role for the Marines would be to operate within those waters—in other words, within range of Chinese missiles—to help defeat Beijing’s own naval forces.

So, Berger set about redesigning Marine combat units, eliminating heavy armor and rotorcraft not relevant to the China challenge while bolstering investment in items like unmanned aircraft, precision fires and tactical networks—areas deemed deficient in the existing force posture.

One refinement that bulked large in the Berger reforms was the requirement for a Light Amphibious Warship, or LAW, that could enable small Marine units to operate in the first island chain off the Chinese coast.
The basic idea was that platoon-size units could maneuver surreptitiously to establish austere forward bases from which they would target Chinese shipping and other assets, moving frequently to avoid detection.
Berger argued in a May 2021 essay for Military Review that, correctly organized and trained, these highly agile units would be “fiendishly difficult for the adversary to locate, track and effectively target.”
LAW was pivotal to this operating concept. The Navy’s existing fleet of 30-plus large amphibious warships were too big and too slow to survive within range of Chinese land-based weapons, so smaller and more numerous connectors were needed.
Several U.S. shipyards have produced designs that can meet the Marine requirement for a light amphib displacing no more that 4,000 tons of water and carrying up to 75 Marines plus a Navy crew not to exceed 40 sailors.
However, the Navy and the Marines can’t seem to agree on the specifications for the ships. Navy planners think that if the vessels are going to operate within the “weapons engagement zone” of the Chinese military, they need to be equipped with a host of survivability features.
Marine planners fear that too many such features would drive up the price of each LAW to a point where they could not afford all the light amphibs they need to be effective.
The resulting impasse has delayed production of the first LAW by two years—to 2025—and if there is no resolution of the ongoing disagreements, it is possible that when General Berger departs the Marine Corps later this year, the plans for a light amphib could depart with him.
There are many nuances to the debate, but fundamentally the problem comes down to this: if you are going to survive within the coverage area of a rapidly growing Chinese surveillance and weapons complex, you need a vessel more nimble and versatile than a traditional steel monohull.
That’s what most of the conceptual designs to date are offering—a monohull—and even some Marines are beginning to think that sending small units into harms way off the Chinese coast on such ships could prove suicidal.
So, is the LAW concept doomed? Not necessarily. Textron (a contributor to my think tank) is proposing a novel alternative to steel monohulls that breaks the mold, so to speak, on how an amphibious vessel should look and operate.
Textron’s idea is for a “Surface Effect Cargo Amphibious Transport” (SECAT) that is essentially an aluminum catamaran capable of transporting 500 tons of cargo and personnel at 50 nautical miles per hour.
To put that in perspective for non-mariners, 50 nautical miles per hour is faster than the posted speed limit on I-95 if you are driving through Charlotte or Philadelphia. It’s faster than the speed of any warship in the current U.S. fleet.
The most interesting feature of the concept is that it relies largely on a cushion of air to displace the weight of the loaded vessel, with only the narrow aluminum structures on its sides actually submerged below sea level.
With a shallower draft and higher speed than traditional steel vessels, SECAT would be far more survivable in a contested littoral environment. It is less vulnerable to the kind of undersea shock waves generated by mines and torpedoes than any monohull would be.
And that’s not all: the configuration of SECAT is much better suited to landing forces on unimproved beaches, and transferring rolling stock from naval vessels at sea.
The latter consideration is important, because as China’s anti-access capabilities have grown, the U.S. Navy has adjusted its plans to operate large vessels further out to sea.
Obviously, the more cargo a SECAT carries, the less distance it can go without refueling. But Textron says that carrying 290 tons of payload, the vessel can travel 1500 nautical miles at 47 knots in choppy seas.
In statue miles, that’s over 1700 miles at 54 miles per hour—enough to get you from Guam to northern Luzon Island in the Philippines without refueling.
Textron says it can make these estimates with confidence, because it has been working on the technology for decades.
Thus, the technology isn’t really new, but it seems uniquely suited to the new mission on which the Marines are embarked. This is the kind of solution that military necessity sometimes demands, so the concept seems worthy of scrutiny.
Otherwise, the whole idea of operating light amphibs within range of Chinese weapons could prove to be a detour from reality.
As noted above, Textron is a contributor to my think tank—as are several of its competitors.

As a reminder - the JHSV Spearhead Class

The low tech solution for the USMC

LAW - Light Amphibious Warship has become LSM - Landing Ship Medium

a fleet of 35 LSMs, giving each Marine Littoral Regiment access to nine ships, while having the rest cycling through maintenance.

The LSM is now an SLV or Stern Landing Vessel


Smith described the SLV as a heavily modified offshore support vessel with a 12-foot draft, 6,000 square feet of cargo space and the capacity to hold 38 Marines and a commercial crew of 12-15 mariners.

Importantly for the Marines’ purposes, it will have a large ramp to allow it to hit beaches as well as reinforced materials protecting its rudders and props.

The key issue seems to be now that the USMC is bypassing the USN and going directly to the Militar Sealift Commands

Military Sealift Command ships are made up of a core fleet of ships owned by the United States Navy and others under long-term-charter augmented by short-term or voyage-chartered ships.[1] During a time charter MSC takes control of a merchant ship and operates it for the chartered amount of time. During this time the ship is crewed by civilian mariners and MSC pays for all expenses. Time chartered ships are not subject to inspections from foreign governments when in port, and MSC has operational control.

The first vessel is under contract with Hornbeck Offshore Services and is being leased with an option for the Marines to eventually buy it if desired. The service has the funding for two more ships, to be acquired in fiscal 2024, but the contractor for the second and third SLVs has not yet been determined, Tomczak and Smith said.

For reference here are two of the USNs Large Unmanned Surface Vessels during PacRim 2021 (IIRC). One of these ships launched an SM6 missile from a sea can VLS on its after deck.


The USN has also started using Spearhead Expeditionary Fast Transports as LUSV test beds


The USMC has been working with that class of ship since its inception as the chartered vessel WestPac Express commuting between Okinawa and Korea.

All of which might add to this

The Marine Corps is shifting its focus from a counterinsurgency campaign in the Middle East to expeditionary advanced base operations in the Pacific, so why are lieutenants still learning about land convoy operations at The Basic School (TBS)? Instead, these “soldiers of the sea” should be learning about naval convoys using small boats, barges, and landing vehicles.

US Marines, Civil Mariners and robots - not a squid on deck.
The low tech solution for the USMC

LAW - Light Amphibious Warship has become LSM - Landing Ship Medium

The LSM is now an SLV or Stern Landing Vessel


The key issue seems to be now that the USMC is bypassing the USN and going directly to the Militar Sealift Commands

For reference here are two of the USNs Large Unmanned Surface Vessels during PacRim 2021 (IIRC). One of these ships launched an SM6 missile from a sea can VLS on its after deck.

With a 12 foot draft I'm not sure how many beaches it can hit ..... without sinking ;)
Surface effect ships have been around since the 1960's. we even had a sidewall hovercraft doing passenger runs from Vancouver to Nanimo in the late 80-early 90's. In fact the Canadian Army had some in the form of the Sea trucks as they used a very basic form of hull lift to achieve high speeds.
The Marines seem to have been captured by the Australian shipping industry.

Could they end up following the example of De Meuron's and De Watteville's Regiments?

Incorporating a shallow ‘V’ hull with two side pods, off-centre shafts and a beaching protection aft skeg arrangement, the SLV is now a finely tuned design that has evolved into a commercially and operationally unbeatable landing craft design.

The USMC seems to be finding ships that they want operating in the waters they want to operate in.

Easier to marry a local duckbilled platypus than get the USN to spec one.


Kidding aside part of the advantage of the design may be in that very long bifold ramp

Meanwhile the US Army has its own ideas about Watercraft - Maneuver Support Vessel

(MSV-L) 117-foot watercraft to replace the Vietnam-era Landing Craft Mechanized-8 (LCM-8) with production of up to 36 of the new watercraft
(MSV-H) may be up to 400 feet in length, reach a speed of 18 knots while carrying up to 175 soldiers and their equipment payloads right up to shore.

Problem of course is you propulsion system is closer to the beach, meaning higher chance of damage and it means the sea chest is also closer as well, meaning higher risk of ingesting sand and other things into the cooling systems.
What the Marine Corps wants is a modern version of the old Large Slow Target, I mean LST (Landing Ship (Tanks)), with more speed and self protection. And if you are looking at fighting island to island in the Pacific, it makes perfect sense.

And why would such fighting occur? Because the Chinese are using a strategy of taking over islands in the South China sea that belong to other people but which they claim as "disputed", from countries that can ill defend them and may want to call on the aid of the US to keep them.
The US needs to work proactively with the Philippines to improve their forward postures and the island stations they use to maintain their claims. Replace that derelict LST with a proper station would be a easy first step.
Problem of course is you propulsion system is closer to the beach, meaning higher chance of damage and it means the sea chest is also closer as well, meaning higher risk of ingesting sand and other things into the cooling systems.

Not ncessarily. Tractor configuration with retractable twin skegs would give you a fair result.


Double acting hulls also come to mind.

As do azimuthing water jets

The US needs to work proactively with the Philippines to improve their forward postures and the island stations they use to maintain their claims. Replace that derelict LST with a proper station would be a easy first step.

Local Phillipine version of the CB90?

Marry them with the Austal LCS and JHSV


And Austal's civilian ferry fleet

Too many trees in BC waters but apparently quite popular with open seas.