Navy Preps to Build New Amphibious Assault Ship

The Navy is getting ready to take the next step in its ongoing competition to build a new amphibious assault ship for the service, officials said.

Called the LX®, the new amphib will replace the Navy’s existing fleet of LSD 41/49 dock landing ships in the 2020s and 2030s, said Navy spokesman Matthew Leonard.

“LX® will be a versatile, cost-effective amphibious ship — a success story in balancing cost and requirements while delivering key capabilities. Competition will play a prominent role in the LX® acquisition strategy,” he said.

The Navy plans to award the detail design and construction contract for the lead ship by fiscal year 2020 with delivery planned for fiscal year 2026, Leonard added.

The 1980’s era LSD dock landing ships consist of eight Whidbey Island-class 609-foot long ships. The 15,000-ton ships, configured largely to house and transport four Landing Craft Air Cushions, or LCACs, are nearing the end of their service life.

Both the LSD and the San Antonio-class LPD 17 amphibious transport docks are integral to what’s called an Amphibious Ready Group, or ARG, which typically draws upon a handful of platforms to ensure expeditionary warfighting technology.  The ARG is tasked with transporting up to 2,200 Marines and their equipment, including what’s called a Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU.

The current configuration of the LPD transport dock is slightly different than the LSD dock landing ship in that it has more aviation capability, more command and control equipment, a crane for use on small boats and a different well deck configuration, Navy officials said.

The LPD is designed to operate with greater autonomy from an ARG and potentially conduct independent operations as needed. A LSD is able to operate four LCACs and the more autonomous LPD 17 can launch two LCACs.

The new LX® amphib, to be based on an LPD 17, will be designed for independent operations, greater aviation capability and additional command and control technologies when compared with the existing fleet of LSDs, Navy officials said.

“After thorough analysis, the Department of the Navy has determined that using a derivative of the LPD 17 hull form is the preferred alternative to meet LX® operational requirements,” Leonard explained.

Basing the ship on a LPD 17 – as opposed to starting from scratch with a new ship design – helps the existing industrial base and gives the Navy more options to keep costs lower, service leaders said.

“That ship is a good ship and we want to be able to continue to buy that ship. We did cost reduction initiatives to get the ship down under cost. We are on a good track to do that. When we get this ship out in the fleet I think it is going to be a great ship side by side with the LPD 17s,” Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh, director of expeditionary warfare for the Navy, said recently at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium in Arlington, Va.

The LSD, which is key to bringing a lot of equipment from ship to shore in LCACs, does not have the same ability to operate independently of an Amphibious Ready Group compared to the LPD 17.

“The LPD has more robust aviation capability. It still has a well-deck but it is not able to carry as much equipment as an LSD ship. LPD has the command and control and aviation capability to operate independently. The LSD is a cargo ship designed to support the big-deck amphibious assault ship in the ready group,” a Navy official told last summer.

Having more amphibs engineered and constructed for independent operations is seen as a strategic advantage in light of the Pacific rebalance and the geographical expanse of the region. The widely dispersed territories in the region may require a greater degree of independent amphibious operations where single amphibs operate separately from a larger ARG.

Also, the LPD is able to transport up to four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters or two MV-22 Ospreys. The Navy had been planning on maintaining only 11 LPDs in the fleet, however additional funding has allowed the service to procure a long-desired 12th LPD, Navy officials said.

Overall, the Navy’s need for amphib continues to outpace the amount of ships available for missions, many Navy and Marine Corps leaders have said.

Recognizing what the Navy has said about its plans and intentions for the new ship, Newport News Va.-based Huntington Ingalls Industries has already unveiled its offering for the LX® competition, calling it the LPD Flight IIA.

The Navy’s LSD dock landing ships are built to house four LCACs or three larger Landing Craft Utility vehicles or LCUs. The ships can also transport up to 36 amphibious assault vehicles. Also, the LSDs have four diesel engines and a helicopter platform with no hangar.

Huntington Ingalls executives say they modified their design to meet the Navy’s adjusted requirements for the LX®.

“We deleted the composite mast and deleted the aft house. We took the Marines down to 500 and took half of the medical space away. We took four engines down to two,” said Mike Duthu, director of new Navy programs, Huntington Ingalls. “We deleted a generator, deleted the electrical load topside and we also made some of the systems simpler.”

The Huntington Ingalls design is aiming to propose a ship that is capable of independent operations, aviation missions and extensive command and control technologies, Duthu added.

For example, their offering adds an aviation hangar to the platform in order to better enable sustained independent aviation operations.

“This (LPD Flight IIA) would be our concept going in to LX® as to what we would offer for the Navy’s consideration. We understand that LXR is going to be a competition and that the Navy intends to compete LX®,” he said.