Inside the Navy reports this week that the Marine Corps has launched a congressional lobbying campaign to undercut the Navy’s shipbuilding goals, citing a chart entitled “Marine Corps Shipbuilding Requirements” that was briefed on December 18. Among other things, the chart calls for building a fleet of 38 amphibious combat ships; funding multiyear production of the LPD-17 transport dock ship; and even building more Zumwalt-class land-attack destroyers beyond the three planned. None of these items is contained in the final version of the Navy’s 2011 shipbuilding plan.
What Inside the Navy didn’t mention was that the controversial chart was approved for congressional presentation by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who has begun to realize that life in Washington under the Obama Administration isn’t going to be as easy as it was during the Bush years. The opening salvo in the coming bureaucratic conflict is an effort by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead to dilute the concept of “forcible entry” at the heart of current expeditionary warfare doctrine. They want blander terminology, because that implies less investment in expensive warfighting systems such as a next-generation destroyer built around long-range guns.
From the Navy’s point of view, the most important emerging warfighting requirements involve intercepting new overhead and undersea threats. If those new threats — like maneuvering ballistic-missile warheads and very quiet diesel-electric subs — are not countered in a timely fashion, then the fleet could gradually lose its ability to operate in places like the Western Pacific. Marine Corps leaders recognize that danger, but they are watching the framework of sea bases and expeditionary ready groups laboriously fleshed out since the last quadrennial defense review beginning to erode as the Obama team changes spending priorities. The remarks by Secretary Gates last year about the waning utility of amphibious-warfare capabilities was a shot across the Marine Corps bow, and now the service is scrambling to make its case in Congress before new political appointees seal the fate of “forcible entry.”
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