This past March, General Dynamic’s NASSCO shipyard launched the first of three Mobile Landing Platforms (MLPs), the USNS Montford Point, MLP-1. The MLP is a large auxiliary support ship designed to support amphibious landing operations by acting as a floating base or transfer station that can be prepositioned off the intended landing area for a protracted period of time, if necessary. The MLPs will allow the conduct of amphibious operations in the absence of ports. The MLP ships themselves carry vehicles, equipment, fuel and food. They are designed also to support the transfer of vehicles, equipment and supplies from other Navy transports and supply vessels to shore through the use of the MLP’s organic air cushion landing craft (LCACs). In addition, the design of the MLP anticipates platform upgrades that could include a command and control suite in support of amphibious forces, a troop accommodation module, medical facilities, and a helicopter landing spot.
Another part of the future amphibious fleet is the San Antonio-class Landing Platform Dock 17, or LPD-17. The LPD-17 class program was designed to replace three existing classes of amphibious ships that are reaching the end of their service life. The LPD-17s are designed to support the deployment of landing forces by helicopter, vertical lift aircraft (the MV-22 Osprey), LCACs, conventional landing craft and the Marine Corps’ future amphibious combat vehicle. The LPD-17 class also incorporates a range of new technologies and systems over its predecessors that mark it as a significant advance in overall capability. In addition to improved interior spaces that allow it to carry and move more cargo, the LPD-17 class has advanced electronics and sensor systems, signature reduction and modern command and control capabilities. The Navy’s current program is for 11 of these ships.
The large deck amphibious warfare ships are the third part of the future fleet. These are the older Landing Helicopter Deck and the newer Landing Helicopter Assault amphibious vessels. In many ways these resemble mini-aircraft carriers, able to launch Harrier and (soon) F-35B vertical takeoff and landing fighters, although their primary responsibility is the transportation and landing of land forces by surface craft and helicopters.
The final part of the future amphibious force will be the new LX(R), a replacement for the venerable Landing Ship Dock (LSD). The Navy is currently conducting an analysis of alternatives with the intention of pursuing a new program that will see the first LX(R) deployed around 2025. The Navy’s reported goal is for a ship with improved capabilities over the current fleet of LSDs but at a price around one-third less than the LPD-17 fleet. One alternative that has been posed is to use the LPD-17 hull as the basis for the LX(R). This would have the advantages of using a proven design and, if the program were begun soon enough, a skilled and ready workforce.
The current U.S. fleet of amphibious warfare vessels provides one-half of what must be recognized as one of this nation’s most sophisticated, versatile and effective military capabilities. The other half is the Marine Corps’ combined arms team with its complement of ground and air forces, the latter including both strike and transport aircraft and helicopters. Together, the Marine Expeditionary Unit/Amphibious Ready Group (MEU/ARG) team constitutes the most complete, self-contained package of flexible military forces this country can deploy.
Unfortunately, at present, the plan is for an amphibious fleet of only 28 vessels. This will not allow the most efficient and effective organization and deployment of MEU/ARGs. A minimum of 33, better yet 38, amphibious warfare ships is needed.
Find Archived Articles: