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What the Navy’s Next Generation Amphibious Ship Could Look Like

An artist's rendering of Huntington Ingalls Industries' LPD Flight IIA variant of the San Antonio-class ship design. HII Image

An artist’s rendering of Huntington Ingalls Industries’ LPD Flight IIA variant of the San Antonio-class ship design. HII Image

NORFOLK, VA — Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) has revised its plan to use the hull form of the San Antonio-class amphibious warship (LPD-17) as a candidate for the Navy’s next generation amphibious warship— LX(R), company officials outlined to USNI News on Tuesday.

HII has pitched variants of the LPD-17 hull for at least two years to the Navy for everything from a ballistic missile defense (BMD) platform to a candidate for LX(R) as LPD Flight II.

HII’s new Flight IIA — mocked up by HII earlier this year — modifies the original LPD-17 original design by removing some of the higher end capabilities of the San Antonio and creating a so-called amphibious truck to replace the existing class of aging Whidbey Island and Harpers Ferry 16,000-ton landing ship docks (LSD-41/49).

Though the concept isn’t news, last month’s revelation that the San Antonio hull will be the basis for LX(R) — according to a memo from the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus — and HII’s ongoing consultation with the service with the design work for the new ship gives greater credence to the company’s plan.

The largest improvement in capability will be to the ship’s communication and aviation ability.

The current LSDs have a minimal command and control (C2) capability – the ability to communicate with other U.S. military forces and coordinate different types of aircraft and smaller vessel — and no native ability to host and maintain the aircraft of the trio of ships that make up the Navy’s Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs).

A comparison between HII's Flight IIA LPD concept and the current San Antonio-class design. HII Image

A comparison between HII’s Flight IIA LPD concept and the current San Antonio-class design. HII Image

At their inception, the LSDs “was really just a truck to always be married up with ARG and never go away from it,” carrying vehicles and landing craft as a compliment for the ARG LPD and big deck amphibious warships, Marine Maj. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, Director Expeditionary Warfare Division (N95), told USNI News on Wednesday.

However, modern operations have required the ARGs to split up and undertake different missions — at times hundreds of miles away from the other ships in the group.

The LSDs are currently the weakest in C2 and aviation maintenance arena of the trio.

HII’s LPD Flight IIA features a hangar smaller than the one on the LPD-17 capable of stowing two MV-22 Ospreys and eliminates the composite masts of the current San Antonio-class design.

USS Carter Hall (LSD-50), the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD-17) in 2008. US Navy Photo

USS Carter Hall (LSD-50), the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD-17) in 2008. US Navy Photo

The LX(R) will be much bigger than the ships it will be replacing — displacing about 7,000 more than the current LSDs at 23,470 tons, HII officials told USNI News on Tuesday.

Instead of the four Colt-Pielstick diesel engines, HII’s model reduces the prime mover count to two unspecified main propulsion diesel engines (MPDE).

The Flight IIA retains about half of the medical spaces on the LPD. Company officials also said the current iteration would feature two spots for the Navy’s LCAC hovercraft or one utility landing craft (LCU) — which is in line with the Navy’s current thinking for requirements for the LX(R), USNI News understands.

Other changes include reducing the troop capacity from 800 to 500 with a crew of about 400 sailors.

Though HII is original designers and builders of the LPD-17 ships, they are not guaranteed the design and construction contract for the new LX(R) ship class. General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, Calif. has also helped the Navy in its current push to lower the cost at the start of the acquisition process and is considered likely to bid on the final work.

“Both HII and NASSCO were helping with ideas on how to drive cost down,” Walsh said.
“When I say competition, we’d look at anyone who could compete and plan it, but those would certainly be two shipyards that would have the ability to compete in this environment.”

The Navy’s frontend analysis of alternatives process for LX(R) has been described as, “the best ship design conversation we’ve had in a long time inside the government,” NAVSEA chief Vice Adm. William Hilarides said in May.

HII officials didn’t give USNI News a cost estimate for their version, but according to past information from the Navy a San Antonio LX(R) could cost about $1.64 billion for the lead ship with follow-ons costing about $1.4 billion for a total of 11 ships.

However, recently the service has been reluctant to put a cost figure on the LX(R) program.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    We will take 5…as in the Navy needs to support an Amphibious Special Operations Force (USMC under SOCOM) for a continuous deployment of 5-MEUs (1-Med/W. Coast Africa, 1-Gulf/E. Coast Africa, 1-Indian Ocean/W. Coast SE Asia/India/Sri Lanka, 2- Westpac). In a savings return, all overseas land based installations for the USMC need to go away, w/MEU units focusing on Camps Lejeune/Pendleton for their home basing/primary training venues.

  • With the GOP taking the Senate and all it’s committee chairmanships, I would expect spending to shift from blue-ish New England sub yards to red-ish Gulf Coast shipyards including Pascagoula MS where the LPD hulls are built.

    • NofDen

      The people in Bath,Maine are good. They build-em, quick and cheaper then the contract says since at least 1942.

      • Fred Gould

        Bath built, best built

    • Rob C.

      Your likely correct, due to the location of where their building the LPD-17s. It’s not about the politics with this one, just happens to be where their logistic chain is currently funneling parts. That’s part of the cost savings, if San Diego gets involved then the cost savings will likely be lost unless their building the ships too.

  • James B.

    We need as many amphibs as we can get, both for the designed purpose, and because they are flexible asset for forward basing, presence operations, and operating counter-swarms to defend against swarm threats.

  • Secundius

    Well, so much for “Stealth Technology”, let the enemies see you coming.

  • NofDen

    Where are the guns? 20 mm, 5″?

    • Rob C.

      It’s a suppose to be transport, their not likely going to be innovating and slapping a new rail gun on there where it has a thin hull of a LPH-17. If their in a firefight, something went really wrong.

      • Jffourquet

        Still need NGFS. Should have a 155mm gun

      • NofDen


  • publius_maximus_III

    “Instead of the four Colt-Pielstick diesel engines, HII’s model reduces the prime mover count to two unspecified main propulsion diesel engines (MPDE).”
    Why not a small gas turbine?

    • Rob C.

      Maintenance cost will go up, so won’t the fuel bill. If they were smart they may try to adapt the hybrid electrical grid that using on the DDG-1000s so they could mount other weapon and equipment. That’s if its affordable enough or worth the cost.

      • publius_maximus_III

        Combustion turbines are pretty reliable (ask the airlines) and diesel engines need to be overhauled once in a while, too. Just seems like the trend in shipbuilding has gone from steam to diesels to gas turbines. Admittedly fuel costs for a gas turbine would be more than for diesels. But some ships have used combined cycles where a steam turbine operates off the waste heat from the gas turbine, for better cycle efficiency and more economical operation.

  • NofDen

    When building navy ships forget the green crap, it won’t work. Get engines with plenty of power, this is a Warship, not a yacht.

  • Rob C.

    Logical follow on, to use the old design for something else. Question is if this going meet their needs, An earlier article was going off how the Navy wasn’t sure if this was going to be what the Navy’s needs since its replacing more types of ships than just LSD itself. I do wonder if NASSCO has better idea than LPH-17’s reuse.

    • publius_maximus_III

      And I hope the USMC has a major say about what is ultimately built and how many.

  • Jffourquet

    Why not put a 155mm gun on it for NGFS?

    • The_Universal_Curmudgeon

      A single ship mounted 155 doesn’t really provide NGFS as much as it provides psychological support for the side which has it.

      If you place a ship with a single 155 on it inside the ship mounted weapon’s effective range, then you also place the ship WELL within the effective range of shore based 155s. Let’s just say “It’s easier for a gun on a stable platform to hit an essentially static (but unstable) target than it is for a gun mounted on an unstable platform to hit a static (but stable) target.”.

      And remember, to knock out land based artillery you have to come one heck of a lot closer to actually hitting the gun than you do to knock out ship mounted artillery.

  • So why, after all this patting themselves on the back about their great design “conversation,” do they end up with a $1.4 billion design that costs anywhere from 3x-4x more than the equally modern 16,000t LSD/LPD ships fielded by other countries?

    For reference, look to the forthcoming Dutch Joint Support Ship (LPD), Karel Doorman. It’s 27,800t, with excellent amphibious capabilities, and can even accept CH-47F Chinook helicopters. Budget? About $500 million.

  • The_Universal_Curmudgeon

    With a roughly 5 :: 4 “Tooth :: Tail” ratio this ship sounds good – until you start wondering exactly how many other ships are going to be required to protect what is essentially a defenceless, thin-hulled, big target which can be destroyed by a single torpedo (either surface or sub-surface launched) and which would be severely challenged to escape severe damage from a 1947 Bofors 40mmL70 or a 1943

    3.7cm Flak M42U.

  • Secundius

    Just exactly, how is this Flight IIA design an Improvement over the Original design?

    • Mentok The Mindtaker

      It’s not about being an improvement. It’s about being affordable.

  • P G

    They mention 50 cal Machine Guns as armament on Ships this size in WWII? Too trival to talk about and went without saying.

  • NofDen

    50’s will take out most pirates, but how a couple of 40 mm’s.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    The new LSD needs to be able to hold at least 3 to 4 LCAC or 4 LCM-8’s per LCAC. The Thomason class held 3 LCU’s each one over a 100 feet long. Or for you old timers 21. Mike 6 boats