Ya I think it is clear the Navy is so busy rushing to get a "Sea Base" they have overlooked the potential of alternatives that would not only be cheaper, but provide the same, if not increased capability.
Example, the Sea Base takes two of the LHA(R) ships and an LHD so the Sea Base will have enough lift to support 1 MEB. I think this is flawed. While the Sea Base idea is great, the implimentation is done to move marines onto commerical ships instead of warships, something I have a serious problem with due to the reduction of amphibious capability. I think the Sea Base should be about logistics, while the Navy plan seems to revolve around the Sea Base being about insertion.
A study of the Sea Base idea makes it clear the decisions driving the Sea Base concept, and amphibious ships in general are being driven by the MV-22. While I do think the MV-22 potentially gives a "game changing" capability, the over emphisis of the MV-22s speed is the problem, because it sacrifices heavy lift and traditional capability for the entire range of L class ships.
I think the solution is to rebalance the MV-22/CH-53K plans to purchase 250 of each aircraft, redesign the MEB MAG to address this adjustments, and further recapitalize the L class fleet to provide adapatable options for both surface and sea deployment.
For example, the Marine Corps current 2015 Baseline MEB Requirement:
Reinforced Infantry Regiment
2 Inf Bn
2 Tank Co
2 LAR co
2 AA Co
3 Arty Btry
1 EFSS Btry
2 Cbt Engr Co
3 JSF sqdn
1 EA sqdn
1 HMLA sqdn
1.25 CH-53 Sqdn
4 VMM Sqdn
1 KC-130 Sqdn
Brigade Service Support Group
DS Co ACE (FW)
DS Co ACE (RW)
3 Inf BN DS Co
Mech Unit DS Co
Arty Unit DS Co
48 MV-22 (36)
20 CH-53 (32)
By adjusting the MAG from 48 MV-22s to 36, and the CH-53Ks from 20 to 32, the balance needed to provide lift to the MEB would allow L class ships to support fully the same requirements of the Sea Base. This would produce the following:
8 LHD with baseline 33 aircraft per LHD:
6 Joint Strike Fighters
4 LHA could then deploy with a baseline:
With the increasing costs of the LSD ships, particularly due to the abuse by neglect they took during the 90s, the current build of 9 LPD-17s could be extended to 24 ships with 2 V-22s per ship.
Under the 8 LHD, 4 LHA(R), and 24 LPD-17 L class fleet, the Marines would then have the following MAG capability on L class ships:
96 CH-53K (32) (3 MEB)
128 V-22 (36) (3.5 MEB)
24 UH-1Y (9) (2.6 MEB)
48 AH-1Z (18) (2.6 MEB)
96 Joint Strike Fighters (30) (3.2 MEB)
By taking V-22s from LPD-17s and replacing with H-1s instead, the L class fleet would then have greater than 3 MEBs in all catagories except vehicle space, which would come to 2.93 MEBs.
Under this proposal, the USMC could form 8 ESGs based around 1 LHD and 3 LPD-17s, supported by 1 CG 52 guided cruiser, 1 51/79 guided-missile destroyer, and 2 LCS ships. During a crisis, 2 MEUs could combine to form a massively capable task force. They could then augment the 8 ESGs with 4 LHA(R)s that regularly deploy with the ESGs, with the intention to keep at least 1 LHA(R) with every 2 ESG groups deployed.
That would make 1 eight-ship task force ESG able to deploy on the surface with 6 LCACs and 2 large-displacement landing craft, or by air with 12 CH-53K and 10 MV-22s, or 22 MV-22s if the LHA(R) is attached. If the Marine Corp can reduce to 9 ESGs, why not 8 ESGs with 4 of those ESGs augmented?
By combining 2 eight-ship task forces, and 1 LHA(R) the Marines could support 8 rifle companies with multiple insertion options, including: 6 under armor in EFVs; 2 reinforced tank companies; 2 fires groups, augmented by 10 five-inch naval guns and approximately 800 VLS cells; 24 JSFs, 32 MV-22s, 24 CH-53s, and 18 H-1 helicopters; or 12 LCACs and 4 large-displacement landing craft. The 2 LHDs could also receive and house significant additional reinforcements. The 1 LHA, 2 LHDs, and 6 LPD-17 force would have the surge capacity to base almost 10,000 total troops with supplies up to 15 days.
Add another 9 ship LHA(R) augmented ESG to the above force, and you have at least 1 MEB in every catagory of the 2015 baseline, and that still leaves 5 ESGs (+2 LHA(R)s not committed).
This plan is achieved under cost if the Navy adjusts the MV-22 and CH-53K current buy plans to 250 of each model (- about 125 MV-22s and + about 100 CH-53Ks), scrap the current Sea Base plan, cancel the future LSD(X) plan, and build 24 LDP-17s at a rate of 2 per year. The Navy would save around 8 billion dollars using current CBO pricing models, which the Navy could use to build whatever "Sea Base" technology they need to fill the gaps in the plan proposed.
And by the way, hopefully that 8 billion would go into the Maersk S class design that was never persued despite the support by the Defense Science Board Task Force for Seabasing. With a 400 million price tag for a 6 ship buy, it would be a key enabler for the Army 101st Airborne BCT integration into the Sea Base, not to mention provide significant capability for the USMC 'insertion' and logistics, and provide a much needed capability to deploy additional heavy units like tanks. That would leave 5.6 billion for the oilers and replenishment ships required to support the logistical 30 day requirement.
With the 3 ESG + 2 LHA(R) task force, supported by 1 Maersk S class ships for USMC aviation, and 4 Maersk S Class Army vessels, 2 T-AKEs, and 10 T-AOs for logistical support, the US could support a joint deployment of over 20,000 Army and Marine troops and equipment that can be taken ashore in less than 36 hours and fully supported logistically for 30 days.
A lot of the research for these concepts has been done, but the rush for the quick and dirty Sea Base and demand for large numbers of MV-22s keeps these ideas from getting any time of day in the Pentagon.