The Navy is weighing whether to have Marines hitch a ride on foreign warships, citing a shortage of U.S. vessels due to recent budget cuts -- raising bipartisan security concerns about the leverage this could give other countries.
A key concern is whether a warship host nation could deny Marines permission to come ashore.
"Ceding our amphibious ships to other countries -- it's almost silly and I can't believe it is even an option for the Navy," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who served as a Marine in Iraq. "Now we are going to have to ask other countries, much less financially stable countries than America, to loan us their ships so that we can base our Marines on their ships. It's almost embarrassing."
The Navy currently has 30 amphibious transport ships to carry Marines, but estimates it would need 38 to cope with rising crises across North Africa. It won't reach that number until 2028 under current budget constraints.
"We are a maritime nation, and we communicate across the world through our sea services, and ... the size of the Navy right now is way too low," said former Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who is weighing a presidential run. Webb was a decorated Marine infantry officer in Vietnam and was appointed Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan.
"It was 568 ships when I resigned as Secretary of the Navy. It's down to about 280 right now," he said.