U.S. amphibious warfare ships often have been pressed into a variety of roles beyond those of carrying Marines and their gear and taking part in beach assaults. Now, the design of the Navy’s next amphib might itself be adapted to different missions and requirements.
That’s the thinking behind a recent decision to change the name of the next amphibious ship program from LSD(X) — representing a replacement for today’s landing ship docks — to LX(R), reflecting a ship that can be adapted to even more roles.
“It’s an effort by the Navy to not confine themselves to looking at a ship configured just for amphibious work,” said one knowledgeable source.
“It gives you the option to look at everything,” said Cmdr. George Doyon of the service’s Amphibious Warfare Branch. “LSD(X) kind of narrowed the focus. Changing the name opens up the aperture.”
Plans now call for ordering the first 11 ships of the new type in 2019, but the Navy is nearly ready to begin the analysis of alternatives (AoA) process to determine the requirements for the ship and how best to meet them.
The baseline for the ships is drawn by the existing LSD 41 Whidbey Island and LSD 49 Harpers Ferry-class ships, Doyon said.
“The AoA is going to do lots of excursions and vignettes off of that to look at the full spectrum, of what is it we want as a service for that replacement to be,” he said during a Nov. 9 interview.
Options range from the low end of ships with current LSD capability, he said, to that of the LPD 17 San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks, which carry more troops and aircraft than an LSD, but fewer vehicles or small landing craft.
Asked if there were any specific designs being considered, Doyon demurred.
“We’ve seen all kinds of art from industry,” he said, “but we haven’t even defined our requirements yet. I can’t comment on industry proposals because we haven’t even defined what our requirement is.”
One industry idea that has been quietly put forth is an “LPD 17 Flight II” concept from Huntington Ingalls, which builds all the Navy’s amphibious ships.
A Flight II handout shows a ship with about 3,000 tons cut out of the 25,000-ton LPD 17 design, eliminating the bigger ship’s aircraft hangar, large enclosed masts and reducing the superstructure.
“As we are a shipbuilder, our job is not to identify requirements but to build what the Navy requires to execute their missions,” Bill Glenn, a spokesman for the shipbuilder, wrote in an email. “By making some changes to the basic LPD design we believe that we can offer the Navy a very robust platform that can perform amphibious warfare missions, maintain Level 2 survivability for our Sailors and Marines and reduce the cost from the current LPD.”
The LPD 17 hull form, Glenn wrote, “can accommodate many missions, such as amphibious warfare, humanitarian operations, joint command and control, ballistic missile defense (BMD), and [serve as] a hospital ship.”
Ships built for those missions have been considered at various levels by the Navy. The service now has two command ships and two hospital ships, all of which have proved useful but are in need of replacement.
Had Mitt Romney won the presidential election, his defense team said, a dedicated BMD ship would have become a priority, and one idea was to base such a ship on the LPD 17. The current Navy leadership, however, does not appear to be considering such a project.
The LX(R) AoA is expected to officially begin before the end of December, Doyon said, and be completed by next September.