New in 2024: Testing to decide future of new Marine landing ship

by Tommy Grant

Marines plan to test a new ship this spring that they see as the answer to fighting in littorals with new formations.

The landing ship medium, formerly known as the light amphibious warship, is the service’s first modern stern-landing vessel. Marines will test out the shore-to-shore connector at the Army’s Project Convergence event in early 2024, Defense News reported.

The Marines announced the concept in 2020 under the wide-ranging restructuring and overhauls as part of Force Design 2030. The landing ship medium is smaller than a traditional amphibious ship, such as the amphibious assault ship variants such as the landing helicopter assault or landing helicopter dock.

After a series of delays, the landing ship medium program is on track to go under contract in 2025. Marines and sailors will run through a series of tests throughout 2024 as the Corps narrows what it needs from the ship.

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, deputy commandant for Marine Corps combat development and integration said in September he was confident the ship would go under contract by 2025, Defense News reported.

“Things have slipped right, but I think for all the right reasons,” he said. “We’re just simply trying to get the requirement right while still trying to move at pace. If you start moving too quickly, you might end up jumping to a conclusion that you probably should have taken a little more time to look at.”

An early prototype project used a leased offshore support vessel from Hornbeck Offshore Services. Designers modified the ship to operate as a stern landing vessel by adding a large ramp, landing legs and protection under the ship’s propellers and rudders, Defense News reported.

That prototype began testing in March 2023.

The Navy expects to purchase between 18–35 landing ship mediums to support Marine amphibious operations, according to a November 2023 Congressional Research Service report.

If the Navy acquires 35 landing ship mediums, the Corps will assign nine to each of the three Marine littoral regiments it is currently building. The Marine littoral regiment is the Corps newest formation that includes a variety of new equipment, such as radar, electronic warfare and the Navy/Marine expeditionary ship interdiction system, or NMESIS.

Eight additional landing ship mediums in the fleet would support any other ships under maintenance or modifications during future operations.

The Marines stood up two Marine littoral regiments in recent years, one based out of Hawaii the other in Okinawa, Japan. A third is planned for Guam sometime after 2025, officials said.

The landing ship medium is crucial to support the Marine expeditionary advanced base operations concept. It envisions small groups of Marines moving between various islands to gather intelligence on enemy locations and strike adversary ships with long range fires.

The approach aims to enable the work of the larger naval fleet, which would otherwise be held at a distance due to enemy anti-access, area-denial radar, sensor and missile systems.

“The LSMs would be instrumental to these operations, with LSMs embarking, transporting, landing, and subsequently reembarking these small Marine Corps units,” according to the Congressional Research Service report.

Under the fiscal year 2024 budget, the Navy sought to purchase the first landing ship medium in fiscal year 2025 at a cost of $187.9 million, with a total of at least six LSMs purchased by fiscal year 2028.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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