General says Marines need more ships in Asia-Pacific

The Marines do not have enough amphibious ships in the Asia-Pacific for more than one contingency, the U.S. commander of Marines in Japan said Friday.

"Will we be able to do it in multiple places simultaneously, or on a scale that would allow us the rapid kind of build-up that we would want? No," Lt. Gen. John E. Wissler told defense reporters at a roundtable in Washington on Friday.

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Lawmakers have expressed concern about the lack of amphibious ships, which is the primary way to shuttle Marines, as well as their vehicles and equipment.

"The availability of amphibious shipping is paramount to our readiness," said Gen. John Paxton Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 26.

Wissler said in order to fulfill the requirements in the Asia-Pacific, he would need six ships, or two amphibious ready groups.

However, there were currently only four that were available to him only 60 percent of the time, or about one amphibious ready group. 

An amphibious ready group typically consists of an amphibious assault ship, an amphibious landing ship and a dock landing ship, along with aircraft. 

"We need more amphibious ships," said Wissler, who is also the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force. 

However, he acknowledged they would be difficult to field in light of the current defense budget environment of decreasing spending.

Keeping six ships there would require 24 ships in total, because having one ship deployed would typically require four ships: one deployed, one heading home, one preparing to go, and one undergoing maintenance.

Wissler said there was a need for more than 50 amphibious ships globally, but there were only currently about 30.

"We don't have the sufficient budget to buy 50," he said.

Given the declining defense budgets, Marine officials say they can do with 38 amphibious ships, but under sequestration defense cuts, they would have 33.

Adm. Samuel Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told lawmakers last month that he has requested the Pentagon to shift more amphibious ships in the Pacific. 

"That request is under consideration," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 25.