Sailors prepare to help moor the amphibious assault ship America (LHA 6). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeremy Graham)

MODERN DAY MARINE 2024 — Following a year of tumult between the Navy, Marine Corps, broader Pentagon and numerous lawmakers over a proposed pause in amphibious shipbuilding, the service secretary today told a congressional committee the Pentagon should have been replacing its amphibious fleet sooner.

“There’s no question in my mind that we should have been buying more amphibious ships earlier,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told the House Armed Services Committee this morning during a hearing to review the service’s fiscal year 2025 budget request.

His comment was in response to a question from Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who noted the Navy was once able to maintain two “heel-to-toe” deployments of Amphibious Ready Groups simultaneously, but in recent years have struggled to upkeep just one. A “heel-to-toe” deployment means that when a given ARG is deployed, it does not leave its station until the ARG scheduled to replace it arrives in the region.

“Since [2017-2018], we’ve unquestionably have been challenged by maintenance problems with our amphibious ships,” Del Toro said. “The age of our amphibious fleet is excessively high. We need to continue to invest in new ships to replace these old ships.”

The secretary’s acknowledgement follows last year’s budget cycle, which was dominated by a Navy proposal to implement a “strategic pause” on amphibious shipbuilding, citing a variety of factors such as cost and design. That proposal infuriated several lawmakers on Capitol Hill, such as Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who personally accused Del Toro of flouting the law for presenting Congress with a shipbuilding plan that didn’t achieve 31 amphibious ships.

The decision also rankled top Marine Corps brass who made no qualms about publicly voicing their displeasure, despite insisting that Navy leadership was largely in agreement with them about the need for more amphibious ships.

Some reports suggested that the Office of the Secretary of Defense was largely behind the pause, but nevertheless, Del Toro was forced to defend the choice publicly to lawmakers. Previous statements aside, the service’s shipbuilding plan this year does reach a 31-amphib fleet, and Del Toro suggested he was eager to replace the oldest ships in the Navy’s inventory.

“If you take the Germantown, which we’re proposing decommissioning this year for example, she is our oldest LSD [dock landing ship],” he said. “She has wood decks on her that are corroding. She has a crane that hasn’t been able to be fixed in the past six years. … So, it’s time to actually replace these older LSDs with new ones in order to be able to meet the missions that face us tomorrow.”

During an April 18 hearing with lawmakers, top Navy acquisition officials indicated a multi-ship buy of three San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks and one America-class amphibious assault ship could net the service around $900 million in savings.