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Memo: Hull Based on San Antonio Design is Navy’s Preferred Option for Next Generation Amphib

USS Arlington (LPD-24) under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding. Huntington Ingalls Industries Photo

USS Arlington (LPD-24) under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding. Huntington Ingalls Industries Photo

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has signed an internal memo recommending the service base its next generation amphibious warship (LX(R)) on the existing San Antonio-class (LPD-17) warship design, first reported by the Inside the Navy newsletter on Monday.

Mabus’ approval of the memo, which he signed last week, validates more than a year of Marine Corps lobbying for a new amphibious ship based on the existing 25,000-ton San Antonio design.

“Through a focused and disciplined process that analyzed required capabilities and capacities, as well as cost parameters, it has been determined that a derivative of the Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD-17) hull form is the preferred alternative to meet LX(R) operational requirements,” read the document.

The lead ship of a San Antonio derived LX(R) would cost about $1.64 billion with follow-ons costing about $1.4 billion for a total of 11 ships, according to information from the service.

Navy officials would not comment to USNI News on the memo saying the service typically doesn’t comment or confirm details on internal memoranda.

San Antonio builder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) told USNI News the shipbuilder was, “encouraged that the Navy has selected a variant of the LPD amphibious warship to satisfy the requirements for LX(R), recognizing the LPD’s proven capability, flexibility and affordability,” in a Monday afternoon statement.

Affordability has been the primary driver of the Navy’s quest for the replacement to the service’s aging Whidbey Island and Harpers Ferry 16,000-ton landing ship docks (LSD-41/49).

The service has taken at least three separate tries at the analysis of alternatives for the ship examining a LX(R) build on a San Antonio hull, a foreign variant or an entirely new ship design, Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA), told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces in July.

The head of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) — Vice Adm. William Hilarides — told reporters in May the internal conversation around LX(R), “the best ship design conversation we’ve had in a long time inside the government.”

The memo from Mabus comes as little surprise to industry watchers. Marines from recently retired commandant Gen. James Amos to a group of retired generals have long stumped for the LPD-17 as the basis for LX(R).

“The opportunity to continue that hull form or something similar to it has great operational advantage to us. It gives us the ship-to-shore, sovereign launch and recovery capability that we need,” assistant commandant Gen. John M. Paxton told the July congressional panel.

“It gives us maintenance capability that we need. It gives us command and control capability for disaggregated operations in case we have to split up that Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in two or three different locations.”

Despite the internal memo recommending the LPD-17 hull form, the final answer of the LX(R) question is far from certain. The next major step for the program is the so-called Milestone A review in which the final outline for a major defense acquisition program is settled.

Also, just because the LPD-17 hull form is the preferred option for the Navy, it doesn’t mean that HII will be the prime contractor for the LX(R). Though HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. is the only hot production line for San Antonio hulls, the Navy will likely introduce some element of competition with other U.S. naval shipbuilders for LX(R).

  • publius_maximus_III

    Clean lines, but she won’t be cleaving any subs in half with THAT bow…

    • Secundius

      @ publius maximus_III.

      Maybe not, but I think she can probably “Tee Bone” them…

  • Rob C.

    Its most logical and arguably most predictable choice for them to make. Its already production to certain extent. Logistics will be simplified by using common components shared with the older LPD-17. Hopefully lessons learned will be applied, given the checkered history the leadship and follow-ons had with design flaws.
    I do wonder if the ship will used as basis for a replacement for the Blue Ridge Class Command Ship.

    • old guy

      AHA! you have not considered the Navy’s famous “FORGETTING CURVE” which makes every ship cost more than the previous one in its class.

  • Secundius

    Well, they could increase the overall length of the ship to 736.8-feet giving her a displacement of ~32,000-tons. By adding a Bow Mounted 5-inch (127mm/65-caliber) Mk.45 Deck Gun too…

    • Rob C.

      You’d think they do that. However, somewhere in the leadership they don’t want additional maintenance to handle. They recently determined that Mk 110 57mm was not up to par with the shorter-ranged 30mm guns when it came to smacking targets. It will take extra-ordinary amount of leadership and leverage to somehow to overcome problem of putting large caliber weaponry on amphibs. I’d rather see TWO 127mm guns mounted on amph if its going be playing fire-support via big barreled guns. Tomahawks are’t cheap, bullets are. I dont’ know if they could be convinced to use the 155mm guns their going stop production on for the Zumwalts.

      • Secundius

        @ Rob C.

        Why not go One Step Further, make a GUN SHIP/FIRE SUPPORT CRUISER out of the San Antonio class. Like the Fletcher class Destroyer of WW2. Mount five 6.1-inch (155mm/52-caliber) Guns for Amphibious Gun Support. And eight of the 2.24-inch (57mm/70-caliber) for Anti-Swarming Protection to the Battle Group it operates with.

        • NofDen

          My Dad was on a Fletcher class destroyer then. Read about it in the book.”The Last of the Tin Can sailors”.
          They also had good fire control for those 5′ 38 caliber guns.
          The japs in the battle of Leyte gulf were attacked by one fletcher class destroyer. They were hitting a battleship so hard they thought there was a battleship against Them.

  • old guy

    Whoopee, another shipbuilder’s welfare program. Howzabout substituting a REAL innovative ship that could carry 6 or 7 LCAC replacements, and be able to pull them up a ramp, load them and send them off in a continuous flow. No well deck, no intow device, handle/refuel helos and LCACs and be a command ship to boot. Ah, but that would take a little imagination.

    • El_Sid

      No imagination needed – the original version of the MLP was not a million miles from what you’ve described but cost close to $2bn back in the day. I’d guess a modern equivalent would be $3bn. The USN doesn’t lack imagination, but it does lack $$$$$.

  • Jim DiGiacomo

    It’s amazing how meager the armament is on US carriers and amphibious ships compared to their Russian counterparts. The Russians learned in WWII that you can’t have too much firepower.

    • Secundius

      @ Jim DiGiacomo.

      Circular Reasoning… Navy plan to support Amphibious Landings with other Gun Equipped Ships aka Destroyers & Cruisers. No Destroyers or Cruisers, NO GUN SUPPORT… A Conundrum. Alternative plan, bring M777 6.1-inch (155mm/33-caliber) Howitzers onto Flight Deck and use them for Fire Support. Slight problem, firing gun will damage Flight Deck. Rendering Flight Deck to next to USELESS.