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    HomeMilitaryU.S. Navy's Medium Landing Ship Program: Costs and Operational Concepts Unveiled

    U.S. Navy’s Medium Landing Ship Program: Costs and Operational Concepts Unveiled

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    USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Gerald R. Ford and USS George Washington sit pierside at Naval Station Norfolk.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    As the United States Navy shifts its strategic focus towards the Indo-Pacific region and the rising challenges, the development of the Navy’s Medium Landing Ship (LSM) program has become a pivotal element in reinforcing the capabilities of the Marine Corps.

    USS Tripoli (LHA 7) arrives in San Francisco for San Francisco Fleet Week.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The LSM program, previously known as the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) initiative, aims to procure a fleet of 18 to 35 amphibious vessels designed to execute the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept—a vision that could alter the landscape of maritime conflict in the Western Pacific.

    Master-at-Arms 1st Class Carlos Gomez salutes Chaplain Lt. John Shelton as he commits remains of an armed forces veteran to rest during a burial at sea ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    According to a recent report, the first of these ships is set to be procured in the fiscal year 2025, with a budget request of $268.1 million earmarked for its acquisition.

    Lancer bombers and F/A-18 Super Hornets fly over the JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS ISE (DDH-182), front, and the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    This initial cost is inclusive of substantial non-recurring engineering and detailed design expenses customary for lead ships in a new class. The program schedule indicates that the first LSM would be delivered by February 2029, following a contract award in March 2025.

    USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) prepares to refuel from USNS Kanawha (T-AO 196) in the Atlantic Ocean.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The EABO concept is the Marine Corps’ response to the operational challenges。

    USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) conducts flight operations in the Atlantic Ocean March 21, 2020.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    It entails the strategic maneuvering of reinforced-platoon-sized Marine units across various islands to execute missions such as firing anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and denying sea control to Chinese forces.

    The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD 22) leads the America Amphibious Ready Group.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    These highly mobile Marine Corps units would rely on LSMs for embarkation, transportation, landing, and re-embarkation. The LSMs, significantly smaller and more cost-effective than the Navy’s current amphibious ships, are vital for such rapid and flexible operations.

    An F-35B Lightning II prepares to land on the flight deck of USS America (LHA 6).” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has weighed in on the potential acquisition costs of the LSM program.

    USS Medgar Evers sails alongside USS Harry S. Truman during a replenishment-at-sea.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The CBO’s estimates put an 18-ship program between $6.2 billion and $7.8 billion, with individual ship costs ranging from $340 million to $430 million based on various full-load displacements.

    USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) pulls alongside USNS Patuxent (T-AO 201) during a replenishment-at-sea, May 15, 2020.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    This contrasts with the Navy’s estimates, which for the same number of vessels stands at around $2.6 billion, projecting a much lower cost of roughly $150 million per ship.

    USS Little Rock (LCS 9) departs Mayport, Fla. for the ship’s maiden deployment, Feb. 6, 2020.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The LSM’s design is proposed to be a hybrid, melding aspects of military-grade amphibious warfare ships with commercial ship standards. The survivability and recoverability features of a military vessel would significantly increase costs; if such standards were fully adopted, each LSM’s price tag could range from $475 million to $600 million. In contrast, adhering closely to commercial standards could cut costs significantly.

    The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD 22) leads the America Amphibious Ready Group.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The disparity between the CBO’s and the Navy’s cost estimates can be attributed to the uncertainty surrounding the LSM program. Factors such as final ship design, capabilities, and the number of vessels ultimately procured will determine the program’s total expenditure. The Navy and Marine Corps have suggested a fleet size ranging from 18 to 35 ships, but the exact number remains a point of contention and strategic calculation.

    170722-N-WS581-0” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Central to the future of the LSM program are decisions regarding the vessels’ concept of operations. The Navy and Marine Corps must determine the level of survivability and defensive systems required, whether the ships will be deployed and resupplied in peacetime or also during active conflicts, and whether commercial or military construction standards will be employed. These decisions will have a significant impact on costs and capabilities.

    060331-N-7293M-549 Yellow Sea (March 31, 2006) – The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) and the Russian Navy Udaloy-class destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov (DDGHM 543) sail in formation during a joint Russian-U.S. Navy exercise. The Russian Federation Navy made the first visit of a Russian Navy vessel to the U.S. territory of Guam in order to participate in a joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Nathanael T. Miller (RELEASED)

    While these deliberations continue, the LSM program represents a strategic evolution in the United States’ maritime doctrine, aiming to provide the Navy and Marine Corps with a transformative advantage in the dynamic and contested arenas of future naval warfare.

    USS Gerald R. Ford pulls alongside USNS William McLean during a replenishment-at-sea..” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Congressional and defense community’s scrutiny of the program’s development, costs, and acquisition strategy will be pivotal in shaping the Navy’s ability to meet emerging operational challenges in the Indo-Pacific theater.

    USS Gerald R. Ford conducts high-speed turns in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 29, 2019.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Relevant articles:
    Report to Congress on Navy Medium Landing Ship, USNI News
    Acquisition Costs of the Navy’s Medium Landing Ship, Congressional Budget Office (.gov)

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