Navy Myopia Force Marines to Hitch a Ride

Expeditionary Strike Group
(Navy.mil photo)

USA Today reports the United States Marine Corps is currently exploring options to use foreign naval shipping to fulfill one of its key missions because the Navy is no longer capable of providing the necessary support.

Marine Corps planners are reportedly working with allied nations to determine the suitability of various vessels to carry company-sized elements of Marines to perform some of the functions being carried out by Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs).

The nation now finds itself facing a situation two generations of military reformers have been warning about for more than 30 years: A military branch no longer capable of fulfilling a key function due to poor planning and exorbitant spending. The U.S. Navy’s bias towards capital ships, the current incarnation being large-deck aircraft carriers, appears to be contributing to the neglect of other missions such as supporting MEUs.

The Marine Corps typically has two MEUs deployed at any given time, one each in the Atlantic and Pacific. MEUs are organized as crisis response forces capable of performing missions across the full spectrum of conflict, from humanitarian missions to full-scale combat. Recent examples of MEU missions include rescuing a pilot shot down in Libya, and providing disaster relief after the tsunami in Japan.

The Navy needs at least 38 amphibious ships on a constant rotation to support MEU deployments. Each MEU consists of about 2,200 Marines spread across three amphibious ships. The Navy only has 30 amphibious ships and doesn’t expect a full complement until 2028, leaving the MEUs high and dry, or looking for another ride.

The Navy’s latest shipbuilding plan, covering the next 30 years, requests an average of $21 billion per year.  This is a third again as high as the Navy has spent in recent decades according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Navy is spending $12.9 billion on just one aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford. With the second Ford-class ship expected to cost $11.35 billion, the Navy is poised to continue to place a significant portion of its construction eggs into just a few expensive baskets.

The need to depend on foreign military support for a key mission is symptomatic of a massively dysfunctional military establishment. Until meaningful reform occurs, the United States military will only continue to find itself with more embarrassing capability gaps.  What is needed now is not an increase in spending, but more responsible spending focused on core capabilities rather than dazzling technology.

Photo of Dan Grazier

By: Dan Grazier, Jack Shanahan Military Fellow

Dan Grazier is the Jack Shanahan Military Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight

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