US amphibious ships to re-instate well dock


The US Navy’s America class amphibious assault ships will be redesigned with a stern well dock, according to Navy officials. From the third America class ship onwards, the Navy plans to return to a well dock to support landing craft. The first two will be without landing craft docks to make space for more aircraft.

Speaking to the House Armed Services subcommittee for Seapower and Expeditionary Forces earlier this month, Sean J Stackley, the Assistance Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition said that the third America-class and subsequent vessels would have stern well docks, while the first two vessels would focus on air power.

The America class amphibious ships are intended to replace the Navy’s Tarawa class vessels between now and 2015 as the Tarawa ships have reached the end of their already extended service lives. The LHA-6 (Landing Helicopter Assault) vessel is the first in the America class series. It will be a gas turbine powered ship supporting a Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

It will be able to launch MV-22B Osprey tiltrotors, helicopters and F-35B Short Takeoff Vertical Landing fighters. With its complement of aircraft the vessel will be able to function as a small aircraft carrier. Typical complement of aircraft is expected to include 12 Ospreys, eight AH-1Zs, ten F-35Bs, four CH-53Ks and four MH-60s.

In order to accommodate a greater number of aircraft the, the America class vessels were originally designed to have greater hangar space at the expense of well decks used to house landing craft, as on the Tarawa and Wasp class amphibious assault ships.

However, from the third ship onwards, the America class vessels will feature a well dock for landing craft. “Our budget for FY 2012 requests funding for research and development to support reintegration of the well deck into the design of the large deck amphibious ship and the construction of LHA 8 in FY 2016,” Stackley said.

LHA-6 is already 30% complete and will be delivered in 2013. The decommissioning of the USS Peleliu (LHA-5) has been extended to provide for the late delivery of the USS America.

The report delivered to the subcommittee also noted that the CH-53Ks are new build aircraft capable of transporting 27 000 lb of external cargo, double the external capacity of the CH-53E. The CH-53E’s maximum payload amounts to CH-53E 30 000 lb while the CH-53K can carry 35 000 lb of cargo. In addition, the UH-1N Huey and AH-1W SuperCobra are being replaced by 349 UN-1Y and AH-1Z models (160 UH-1Ys and 189 AH-1Zs).

The report outlined the importance of amphibious operations in force protection, co-operation and in responding to disasters, especially in light of recent deployments off the coast of Libya. “Failure to maintain adequate amphibious capability and capacity presents a grave risk to our national security,” the authors said. The US has conducted more than 50 amphibious operations since September 11

They also noted that amphibious operations are routinely carried out to support security cooperation, foreign humanitarian assistance, civil support, non-combat evacuations, peace operations and disaster relief. Recent examples of such operations include assisting New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; evacuating 14 000 American citizens from Lebanon in 2006 and providing earthquake relief to Haiti last year.

Given the importance of amphibious operations, Navy and Marine Corps chiefs believe that 38 amphibious assault ships are needed to sustain a two Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) lift. The Navy will sustain a minimum of 33 amphibious ships for assault.

In addition to the America Class, the Navy, from 2017, will acquire 12 LSD(X) ships to replace LSD 41/49 Whidby Island/Harpers Ferry class vessels. Five San Antonio class LPD ships have been delivered while the eleventh and final LPD is planned to be procured in FY2012.