US Navy, Marines to Study Readiness of Amphibious Fleet, Overcoming Ship Maintenance Challenges

Foreign Affairs

National Harbour: The US Navy and Marine Corps will study amphibious warship readiness and how the services can get ahead of ship maintenance challenges, a top Navy officer told reporters.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Lisa Franchetti said she and Commandant of the Marine Corps General Eric Smith signed a letter to their three-star officers who oversee plans and operations, calling for a deep dive on ship readiness and requirements for the training and certification of ship groups and the Marines who embark on them.

Franchetti, who spoke to a group of reporters following remarks at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference here, acknowledged the amphibious assault ship Boxer deployed last week several months later than planned. To make up for its delay — caused by a maintenance challenge — fellow Boxer Amphibious Ready Group ship Somerset was deployed in January, taking on missions solo until its two fellow vessels and their embarked Marines could join it in the Pacific Ocean.

She said the Navy is also eyeing potential delays for the amphibious assault ship Wasp, which recently began basic at-sea operations following a lengthy maintenance availability.

“We’re trying to look ahead to make sure that we can, I want to say, nip this in the bud,” she explained. “Many of our amphibious ships are older. Also, they’re getting the [Joint Strike Fighter] modifications, so that’s taking time when they go in for their upgrades, and that’s taking a little bit longer than expected.”

The chief of naval operations called this study a “proactive approach” to help “get ahead of potential delays” in maintenance, and ensure ship crews and embarked Marines are properly trained and certified to respond to contingencies and deploy on time, even if maintenance runs long.

She said the group will report back next month with the “terms of reference” for the study, which will outline what to look at and how. Franchetti emphasised she’s committed to the amphibious fleet, noting the recent fiscal 2025 budget request reflects that with money to buy new amphibious assault ships, amphibious transport docks and landing ships medium.

Amphibious ships have been a point of contention between the Navy and Marine Corps in recent years. Some of the oldest Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships have required an increasing amount of time and money for maintenance. And yet, in some cases, they have struggled to be ready enough to deploy.

The Navy has argued it should stop throwing money at these ships that aren’t combat-credible. The Marine Corps has argued that decommissioning the ships early would put it further from its required 31-ship amphibious fleet — a number Congress passed into law in 2022. The Corps says it needs a minimum of 31 ships to ensure Marines are sufficiently trained and can maintain a regular presence around the world.

The issue was exacerbated by a Pentagon-driven effort last year to pause buying amphibious transport docks and reconsider what, if any, design the Navy should buy in the future. That debate now appears to be over, with the Navy’s FY25 spending plan showing the continued purchase of amphibious transport docks as originally planned.