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‘Let Down’: Marines Scramble To Find Ships For Sudan Evacuation As Pentagon Ignores Request For Bigger Fleet

The Marine Corps is using two substitute ship classes to help the State Department evacuate people from conflict-ridden Sudan, which service leaders say is yet another reason the Navy should grant their request for more fast-deploying amphibious warships, U.S. Naval Institute News reported.

The Navy does not have enough ships to operate an aircraft carrier group or amphibious readiness group in the Middle East, leaving the Marine Corps scrambling to find alternatives for a sea-based evacuation route, according to USNI News. On Monday, the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EFT) USNS Brunswick sailed about 300 people from the Port of Sudan to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as they seek to escape the fighting that began over a week ago between Sudan’s government and a powerful rebel militia group.

“While Marines did provide support to the evacuation of the embassy, it is our Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Ready Group (MEU/ARG) that are trained specifically for evacuations like this,” a senior Marine official told Defense One. “Ideally, there would be a consistent MEU/ARG presence in the Mediterranean that could have been an option for the combatant commander. There was no MEU/ARG in the region due to the lack of ready amphibious ships, and so it wouldn’t have been an option in this case,” he said

Meanwhile, a Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary sea base , the USS Lewis B. Puller, is on standby in the Red Sea in case the Corps needs to evacuate more individuals, according to USNI News.

Both classes of vessel garnered attention from the Marine Corps as a temporary stand-in to support the force’s island-hopping posture, which requires fast, maneuverable ships without a large footprint, according to USNI News. It has leased several of the vessels as it waits on the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) to exit the production line as the program has encountered years-long delays.

Corps leaders believe the LAW will be critical for conflict in the Indo-Pacific, enabling low-cost beach landing capabilities, USNI News reported.

While the Corps wants at least 31 LAWs, and Congress statutorily approved that minimum request, the Navy’s budget proposal for 2024 proposes to cut the number of amphibious ships, according to Defense One.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said the lack of available ships prevented the Corps from fulfilling its mission as a rapid response force, arriving before everyone else to respond to crises and deliver humanitarian aid, according to USNI News.

Berger said he felt the Corps “let down” U.S. Africa Commander Gen. Michael Langley in previous Sudan evacuation operations during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Friday.

“He didn’t have a sea-based option. That’s how we reinforce embassies. That’s how we evacuate them. That’s how we deter,” he said at the hearing.

Without the minimum 31 amphibious warships, the Corps “would have gaps during the year when we would not have an at-sea capability for the combatant commander when something happened,” Berger told Congress.

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