Spend any time researching Marine Corps leadership concerns regarding naval readiness and you will see a familiar refrain of lamentations: Not enough ships (down to 31 this year with a USN-USMC agreed requirement of 38); Insufficient C2 / C5I capability and capacity; Threat pushing amphibious standoff ranges further and further out. The problem set is compounded by an unprecedented fiscal crisis affecting everything from new ship procurement to maintenance / modernization and no relief in Geographic Combatant Commander (GCC) demands for naval amphibious forces. Decades of lower amphibious prioritization have helped to create this readiness predicament; solving the conundrum will require significant investment and coordinated decisions across the Navy / Marine Corps to restore readiness while meeting the most critical of GCC requirements.
Carriers, surface warfare, maritime patrol aircraft and submarines are all struggling to meet the demands of the GCCs. But arguably no community is as in demand, and under resourced as the amphibious shipping. The associated Marines are stretched thin, but not nearly to the extend of the shipping they need to be truly relevant.
But the spiraling costs of amphibious shipping means building an appropriate number is highly unlikely, especially with programs like the replacement for the Ohio class SSBNs poised to suck vast amounts of money from the shipbuilding budget.
And so the ships are rode hard and put away wet, reducing their lifespans, and further exacerbating the problem.
Some efforts, such as the Mobile Landing Platform are in hand to maintain a valid forced entry option by facilitating follow on assets at reasonable cost. But the Navy simply cannot continue to sustain its forward deployment of various Marine Expeditionary Units without destroying the very shipping needed to do so.
Sooner or later, CNO is going to have to tell the GCCs “no.”
Of course, as noted in the linked article, the GCCs don’t just make this stuff up in a vacuum. They formulate their taskings to the services based on the guidance from civilian leadership. Which in the end means that both the GCCs and the CNO and other Joint Chiefs are going to have to sit on Capitol Hill and tell the world that they cannot accomplish the mission.