Defense Secretary Leon Panetta plans to zip over the ocean in a hovercraft before touring a Navy amphibious assault ship off the Southern California coast.
The Defense Department announced Wednesday that Panetta will meet with sailors and Camp Pendleton Marines on Friday aboard the USS Peleliu on Friday.
His visit aims to show the Pentagon's continued commitment to such ships amid budget cuts and the debate over whether beach invasions have become obsolete in modern warfare.
The Pentagon says big-deck amphibious assault ships are critical because of the flexibility they provide commanders to move Marines and supplies ashore.
Marines have been returning to their amphibious roots as the military shifts its focus toward coastal countries, such as Iran, North Korea and China, after a decade of landlocked wars.