CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- As the Marine Corps continues to draw down from a decade of ground combat, the service is returning its focus to expeditionary warfare, principally with regards to Marines serving aboard Navy ships. The Corps’ leadership has repeatedly stated a desire to get more Marines out to sea, beyond those units which deploy with Marine expeditionary units.
The littoral combat ship, while not specifically designed to embark Marines, offers a variety of future possibilities for future small-unit Marine Corps operations such as reconnaissance, raids, and advance force operations. Additionally, a LCS with embarked Marines could offer a significant theater security cooperation capability as the Navy and Marine Corps team conducts cooperative engagement with international defense forces.
The USS Independence Littoral Combat Ship 2 or LCS 2 is one of the fastest, most unique Navy ships available due to its configurability and innovative design.
“We’re basically a pick-up truck,” said Command Master Chief Michele L. Curtin. She refers to the aft of the ship that holds a large flight deck and the mission bay that lies beneath it. Currently, LCS 2 is designed to embark three separate mission packages, including Mine Countermeasures, Surface Warfare, and Anti-Submarine Warfare. Each mission package requires different equipment stored in the mission bay for the intended operation.
Although there are only three mission packages in development right now, the opportunity of implementing more is not out of the question.
“While only Navy-oriented mission modules are currently being developed, research has been done to outline what might go into a Marine-focused LCS mission module,” said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Fischer, Navy liaison officer for I Marine Expeditionary Force. “This is a possible future capability. In Southern California, I MEF has approached the Navy’s San Diego based LCS organization with the desire to further these concepts, with the intent to maintain a dialogue with the LCS organization and to use the geographic co-location to exchange ideas and to give Marines an opportunity for hands-on experience onboard LCS, when the Navy can support.”
Most Marines with ship experience are accustomed to operating in MEU environments, with large ships, battalion-sized units and lengthy times at sea. However, the LCS is a completely different atmosphere designed to conduct missions in areas a MEU typically would not.
“The key characteristic of this particular variant of LCS, despite the shallow draft, small crew and relatively small displacement, is the enormous amount of interior cargo space which allows us to mount mission package equipment, extremely generous flight deck for a ship this size, and a large aviation facility,” said Cmdr. David Back, commanding officer of the USS Independence Gold Crew.
The Marine Corps is researching and evaluating what an additional package would look like and how it would operate. Back and other personnel aboard the LCS described how it could work.
“Marines could easily be put in berthing modules in the mission bay,” Back said. “The mission bay is large enough to house light vehicles and get to a place in the world faster than an amphibious ready group.”
Reconnaissance, anti-piracy and any mission requiring a small number of Marines could be possible with the availability of a Marine mission package.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ricardo Tovar, a boatswain’s mate and part of the LCS program for almost three years, says the living conditions on the ship will appeal to Marines when compared to a ‘legacy’, or older, ship.
Tovar said he doesn’t see a problem with the possibility of housing Marines on the ship in the mission bay.
“We live in four-man staterooms as opposed to a 60-man berthing,” Tovar said. “I think it’s about ironing out the wrinkles right now. It’s finally starting to come together. The LCS 2 from the way it was when I first saw it to the way it is now—they have come such a long way.”
It may be compared to a pick-up truck but there’s no doubt that the LCS could be a key future component of warfare and humanitarian aid for both the Navy and Marine Corps.