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One area in which those building blocks may be required is the littorals. As U.S. engagement in Afghanistan wanes, the Marine Corps is increasingly likely to face action in the littorals, says Major Robert S. Bunn. A complex environment melding land, water, and cultures, this terrain will demand enhanced capabilities. Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) will be a key contributor to these missions, as they will often be responsible for preparing the battlespace for conventional forces. Although these operations will remain a joint effort, the author believes MARSOC forces will bring “the expeditionary mindset and naval ethos inherent to their heritage as Marines.”

But how will Marines get to these future fights? Given the combination of the impending retirement of landing ship docks and what some consider to be the failed procurement of the littoral combat ship (LCS), the Navy must begin to consider their replacements. Affordability will be a significant factor, as well as the new vessel’s ability to take on tailored missions. Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel J. Noel Williams contends that about 50 “frigate helicopter docks,” a smaller combatant that could “provide robust interfaces to all physical domains; to the surface and subsurface through a well deck, and to the air through a flight deck,” could fill this need. The ship would also be armed with a 48-cell launch system and a 5-inch gun to increase overall Fleet firepower. “We must begin to evolve toward a Fleet architecture of smaller and more numerous, lethal, signature-controlled, and protected combatants,” he says.

But that’s not the only type of vessel that could replace the LCS. As retired Navy Captain Gordan E. Van Hook points out, the Navy needs a new small surface combatant (SSC) such as an expeditionary frigate. “[It] should be expected to go into harm’s way and toe-to-toe in littoral waters with any likely surface competitor of a similar size, attacking aircraft, or quiet diesel submarines,” he envisions. And the perfect ships may not only already exist, but have already proven their capabilities: The Danish Absalon and Iver Huitfeldt classes offer increased lethality, survivability, flexibility, modularity, and affordability. “There is no need for an expensive redesign of existing warships, and a new SSC in the form of an expeditionary frigate can be acquired at a comparable or lower cost than the LCS,” he argues.  

Paul Merzlak , Editor-in-Chief



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