The increasing likelihood of littoral conflict has fueled the return of Marines to their naval roots.
But the growing demand for an amphibious force in readiness is challenged by an insufficient number of U.S. Navy amphibious ships to meet current requirements.
"I do not expect that situation to change for many years to come," former Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his planning guidance. "As Expeditionary Force 21 emphasizes, we need to modify traditional employment methods and augment amphibious warships by adapting other vessels for sea-based littoral operations. We will aggressively develop concepts of employment for alternative platforms that are consistent with mission requirements and platform capabilities."
That means more Marines can expect to deploy aboard nontraditional ships such as the Expeditionary Fast Transport (formerly the Joint High Speed Vessel), a shallow draft, aluminum, commercially based catamaran that can serve as a launching platform for helicopter and riverine operations. And there is the Expeditionary Transfer Dock (formerly the Mobile Landing Platform) and the Expeditionary Mobile Base (formerly the Afloat Forward Staging Base). Dry cargo and ammunition ships have served as alternate command, control, operational and logistics platforms in various exercises such as Bold Alligator and Koa Moana 15-3, a deployment to South Pacific islands like Tahiti and Fiji that wrapped up in early December. While these vessels don't have the survivability of an amphib, they are far less expensive, and available.
That's not bad news for sea-going Marines. Life aboard an MSC ship is quite comfortable when compared to the gray hulls. Berthing spaces top out at 15 racks. The head has private toilet stalls and top-notch hand dryers. In the EFT, a large common area has upward of 300 reclining chairs (complete with adjustable back support) and 20 flat screen TVs for movies and video games. Knee-knockers are more like toe-stubbers and hatches have been replaced by doors you don't have to dog down. There are plenty of outlets in berthings and common areas, and plenty of air conditioning pumping through all the spaces.
More Marines are also likely to find themselves aboard allied vessels, as Osprey crews did when they landed aboard Spanish amphibious ships during the Trident Juncture exercise this fall. The deck landing qualification training was part of the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative, which seeks to provide the U.S. and allies with a year-round, maritime-based crisis response force in the Mediterranean Sea or the Gulf of Guinea by leveraging the significant amphibious capabilities residing in Europe.