What is the purpose of amphibious lift? Why, to put Marines ashore, of course. We did it repeatedly in WWII and several times since. And what is the amphibious lift capacity, currently? Here are the recent lift requirements (1).
1980 = 1.15 MEF (66,252 Marines + equipment)
1991 = 2.5 MEB AE (33,793 Marines + equipment)
2006 = 2.0 MEB AE (23,016 Marines + equipment)
MEF = Marine Expeditionary Force
MEB AE = Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Assault Echelon, usually shortened to MEB
Note - Marine totals include some Navy support elements
So, we see a steady decline in the lift capacity requirement. Most of the decline is associated with the simple reality imposed by budget limitations over the last several decades rather than absolute strategic and operational necessity. Nonetheless, we see a steady decrease. The current lift requirement is met by a goal of 33 amphibious ships (LHA, LPD, and so on).
|Amphibious Lift - How Much is Too Much?|
1. I don't see any possibility of a land invasion of China under any circumstance. We'd have to be insane. Thus, massive amphibious capability is not needed.
2. I don't see the likelihood of large scale amphibious invasions of Iran/N. Korea since each has neighboring "friendly" countries that we would use as overland invasion portals. I do see the possibility of small scale amphibious flanking attacks which would require company to regiment size amphibious capability.
3. I see very likely and fairly frequent need for "peacetime", short term, small scale amphibious ops in third world countries - putting out fires, so to speak. As stated these ops would be hostage rescue, raids, surgical strikes on specific and limited targets, and so on. These would require company size (200 Marines) or less amphibious capability.
With the above in mind, suggest that we don't need nearly as much large scale amphibious capability as we have. I do, however, see the need for more (we don't really have any, currently) small scale, company size amphibious ships. Thus, our cursory thought exercise suggests that rather than needing a large lift capacity what we really need is 10-15 small, company sized ships for the far more common peacetime ops and a relatively small handful of larger ships for the Iran/N. Korea scenario. So, instead of 33 large amphibious ships that we have now, 10-15 small ships plus 6 larger ships would suffice.
Hmm... A redesigned LCS or JHSV would almost fit the bill for a Company size amphibious ship, wouldn't it? But, I digress.
As I stated at the outset, amphibious lift is an article of faith for many and I'm perfectly willing to be persuaded that we need more than I've just called for. Feel free to explain why you think we need more but do it with facts, not just a vague statement that we might someday need more. Using that reasoning, we should build 400 carriers, 1000 amphibious ships, and so on, because you just never know what might happen.
(1) Congressional Research Services, Navy LPD-17 Amphibious Ship Procurement: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 16-Mar-11