New in 2024: Trials to decide future of new Marine landing craft

Marines plan to test a new ship this spring, which they see as a response to combat in coastal areas with new formations.

The ship’s landing craft, formerly known as a light amphibious warfare ship, is the service’s first modern landing craft. Marines will test the coast-to-coast link at the Army Convergence event in early 2024, Defense News reported.

The Marines announced the concept in 2020 as part of a wide-ranging redesign and overhaul as part of Force Design 2030. The landing craft is smaller than a traditional amphibious ship, as are amphibious assault ship variants such as the amphibious assault ship or the amphibious landing craft.

After a series of delays, the medium landing ship program is on track to go under contract in 2025. Marines and sailors will undergo a series of tests throughout 2024 as the Corps narrows its needs from the ship .

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, deputy commandant for Marine Corps deployment and integration, said in September that he was confident the ship would be under contract by 2025, Defense News reported.

“Things have gone well, but I think for all the right reasons,” he said. “We’re just trying to get the requirement right, while also trying to move with pace. If you start moving too fast, you might jump to a conclusion that you probably should have taken a little longer to see.”

An early prototype project used a leased offshore support vessel from Hornbeck Offshore Services. Designers modified the ship to function as a stern landing craft by adding a large ramp, landing legs and protection under the ship’s propellers and rudders, Defense News reported.

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This prototype began testing in March 2023.

The Navy expects to buy 18 to 35 amphibious assault vehicles to support amphibious operations, according to a November 2023 Congressional Research Service Report.

If the Navy acquires 35 amphibious assault vehicles, the Corps will assign nine to each of the three Marine Corps regiments it is currently building. The Marine Corps Coastal Regiment is the Corps’ newest formation that includes a variety of new equipment, including radar, electronic warfare and the Naval/Maritime Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System, or NMESIS.

Eight additional ship landing craft in the fleet would support any other ships under maintenance or modifications during future operations.

The Marines have raised two coastal regiments in recent years, one based in Hawaii and the other in Okinawa, Japan. A third is planned for Guam sometime after 2025, officials said.

The ship’s landing gear is critical to supporting the base’s advanced operations concept for maritime campaigns. It envisions small groups of marines moving between various islands to gather intelligence on enemy locations and engage enemy ships with long-range gunfire.

The approach aims to enable the work of the larger naval fleet, which would otherwise be kept at bay by enemy anti-access, area denial, sensor and missile systems.

“The LSMs would be critical to these operations, with the LSMs boarding, transporting, landing and then re-embarking these small units of the Marine Corps,” according to the Congressional Research Service report.

Under the fiscal year 2024 budget, the Navy sought to purchase the first landing craft in fiscal year 2025 at a cost of $187.9 million, with a total of at least six LSMs purchased by fiscal year 2028.

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