Home » Aviation » Navy Pitching Amphibious Warship Overhaul to Boost Lethality, Survivability

Navy Pitching Amphibious Warship Overhaul to Boost Lethality, Survivability

The guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) leads the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47) and the amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) in formation during a simulated strait transit as part of Dawn Blitz 2017. US Navy photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The amphibious force may get a massive capability overhaul, if a plan by the Expeditionary Warfare Directorate (OPNAV N95) to increase lethality and survivability of amphibious ships is accepted by Navy and Marine Corps leadership.

Maj. Gen. David Coffman said his directorate will spend 2019 working out the finer details of an Amphibious Warship Evolution Plan, which will help the amphibious assault ships better leverage fifth-generation aircraft and will put the smaller amphibious transport San Antonio-class (LPD-17) docks more on par with cruisers and destroyers as “prominent middle-weight fighters” in a future naval battle.

Coffman described the ships’ usefulness to combatant commanders as a multiplication problem: “capacity times capability times readiness equals lethality.”

“It’s multiplication, not addition – so if you have a zero in any one of these categories, you end up with a big fat nothing,” he said, while speaking at a Hudson Institute on Nov. 9.

The amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) and its amphibious ready group (ARG) are moored at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. US Navy photo.

On the capacity side, the Navy and Marine Corps are executing a plan to get to 38 amphibious ships – ultimately 12 big decks and 26 LPDs – which represents a compromise figure that could carry two Marine Expeditionary Brigades ashore. Coffman said it would take 50 or more ships to fully meet operational commanders’ appetite.

On the capability side, “if you have a ship but it can’t stand in or is not equipped for great power competition, or it can’t operate in the five-domain contested environment for current and future warfights, well, that’s a zero.”

Maj. Gen. David Coffman, director of expeditionary warfare (OPNAV N95), addresses members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 8 at Naval Station Rota. US Navy Photo

And on readiness, “if you have the ship and you give it the right combat systems and you built a capable amphibious warship – not just a sealift carrier to move square foot, cubic foot and Marines – but it’s sitting up on blocks at a yard … guess what you get when the war starts? That’s right, a zero.”

He called the difficulties of getting amphibs through maintenance periods on time and on budget “a sucking chest wound” that affects readiness, but that side of the equation is largely out of his control. On the capacity side, he said he can recommend procurement profiles up the chain of command, but there is a lot of pressure on the shipbuilding budget and ultimately the decision is not in his hands either.

But he can dictate the capability requirements, which is why he said his staff’s main focus in 2019 would be this capability evolution plan. The plan will address hull, mechanical and electrical capabilities; susceptibility, survivability and recovery; offensive lethality; and integration with both Special Operations Forces and the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, particularly the aviation combat element and its F-35B Joint Strike Fighters.

Sailors assigned to the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) move an F-35B Lightning II fighter jet, attached to the “Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, onto the port aircraft elevator during a scheduled deployment of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). US Navy photo.

On the amphibious assault ships, Coffman proposed a massive midlife maintenance period, akin to aircraft carriers’ four-year refueling and complex overhaul, in which the whole Navy-Marine Corps team knows the ship will be out of service for a time but will come out of the yard as the most sophisticated ship in the fleet.

Particularly given that the Navy only has nine Wasp-class LHDs and America-class LHAs in the water today, Coffman acknowledged the difficulty in asking to take one out of service. But, he said, the first operations of the F-35B on USS Wasp (LHD-1) and USS Essex (LHD-2) this year have been “a reverse canary in a coal mine” situation in plainly highlighting a problem the Navy and Marine Corps already expected to face: the planes are too sophisticated for the ships, which cannot fully communicate with them and leverage the planes’ data.

“I don’t want to bring Marine Aviation down to third- and fourth-gen; I want to bring the rest of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force up to fifth-gen and exploit that technical expertise and have a fifth-gen MAGTF. The problem is, we’re having to embark a fifth-gen MAGTF on a third-gen ship, and we have to fix that. Time, now,” Coffman said.

On the San Antonio-clas LPDs, the focus of upgrades will be bringing them from Marine-carriers with a great command and control system to a lethal node in the Navy’s sea control web.

The amphibious transport dock ship USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam at the end of the at-sea-phase of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, July 31, 2018. US Navy photo.

Coffman said that wargames and tabletop exercises have shown the LPD is just the right size to be highly effective in the Navy’s distributed lethality and distributed maritime operations concepts, if they were upgraded to include more lethal systems. He said “they really live in the world of the small boys” in terms of size, aviation detachment and other capabilities, but they are not tapped into the Navy’s kill web in the same way – a lost opportunity that Coffman intends to correct in this new upgrade plan.

“Making a bet on increased lethality … is absolutely essential” and worth the cost, he argued. He declined to say what weapon systems he was looking at putting on these amphibs, but he said the upgrades would allow the amphibs to join the rest of the black shoe navy in the fight for sea control once they put their MAGTF ashore.

“Why aren’t you contributing to air and missile defense? Why aren’t you contributing to anti-surface? Instead of having to be protected, why don’t you put something on offer to be part of the killers?” Coffman said of the possibilities of an upgraded LPD.
“The bulk of that will be Navy systems integrated into Navy weapons architecture.”

The general described a scenario of multiple LPDs fighting alongside cruisers and destroyers, and not only would the amphibs have a complement of sensors and weapons to contribute to the sea and air control fight, but they would also have a surprise mix of aircraft and surface connectors hidden in their well decks and flight decks to surprise an adversary closer in to shore.

The LPD midlife plan would ideally kick in in the mid-2020s, he said, and give the Navy and Marines a chance to “correct the failures of the past” with this ship class now that the amphibious community has learned so much about how the ships can be used and what investments are most desired.

Amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) transits the Pacific Ocean near Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). US Navy photo.

As Coffman and N95 fill in the details of this plan, Coffman said the community is hoping to change the conversation about what role amphibious ships can play in a future high-end battle. Currently, he said, “they’re not valued, they’re not lethal. If you make them more lethal – well I don’t want to make them more lethal because they’re not valued. So you get caught in a circular argument. Our keywords we put on our poster … we say, lethal, survivable, networked and unpredictable,” he said, and he hopes that a plan to get the ships to those four ideals will capture leadership attention and funding.

Coffman put the cost and operational utility in plain terms. On cost, he said the amphibious force in the N95 portfolio only costs a nickel of every dollar the Navy spends and has proven well worth the money. On usefulness, he said in a major fight the largest Combined Force Maritime Component Commander – U.S. Pacific Fleet – would have at its disposal 100,000 Marines, including I and III Marine Expeditionary Forces and their accompanying 1st and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing with their F-35s – but PACFLT could only benefit from all that “if he can talk to them, if he knows how to use them, if we have integrated the fifth-generation Marine Air-Ground Task Force capability resident in the fleet marine force.”

On the capacity side, Coffman said nine LHAs and LHDs are in the water; the tenth, the future Tripoli (LHA-7), will deliver next year; and the 11th, the future Bougainville (LHA-8) is under construction.

“We are debating out to the right of that because, facing the first planned decommissioning in 2029 of Wasp, the first of the Wasp class, we are concerned that the pathway does not get us to 12. We have a capacity problem with the big decks,” he said.

The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) transits the Alvund Fjord, Oct. 31, 2018. Iwo Jima is currently underway participating in Trident Juncture 2018. US Navy photo.

Coffman has also recommended to Navy and Marine Corps leadership that they enter into LPD Flight II serial production through a block buy or multiyear procurement as soon as possible. The Navy decided in 2015 to replace the aging Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships (LSD-41/49) with a next flight of LPDs and in April formally designated them LPD Flight IIs, which Coffman called the most consequential decision for the amphib force in recent history and “a monumentally good decision for the Navy and the nation.” The current shipbuilding plan calls for the first ship in 2020 and then one a year starting in 2022, but Coffman is advocating for more.

“We do have industrial capacity to build, to include serial production on LPD at the rate of one per year. So we could build faster to our 38 ships if we accelerated LHA procurement and build and went to serial production soonest on LPD and get a better pathway there,” he said.
“Again, that’s our recommendation, but that’s weighed against other parts of the DoD.”

  • Ser Arthur Dayne

    I could not agree more. Imagine if the LPD-17 had been designed with the DDG-1000’s 80 MK57 Peripheral VLS cells … That’s 40×4=160 ESSMs + 20 SM-6s + 20 Tomahawk Block IV missiles…. so not only could the LPDs protect themselves AND the LSDs (and future LPD-17 Flight 1s aka Less Capable LPDs That Are Replacing The LSDs) …. but they could contribute meaningful local air defense to the ARGs/ESGs, they could contribute long-range air defense and Anti-Surface warfare via the SM-6, (Which is of course fully networked for use via the DDGs & F-35s) and they could contribute a significant strike package via TLAM (which could also be used to sink major surface combatants with the Block IV capability.) —- and literally this would be a HUGE capabilities increase to the Navy. (This is why I stress — constantly– how an FFG(X) [particularly FREMM] with 32 VLS would be such an increase in our capability) …. We’re not like Russia, we don’t have 100x types of missiles for our ships. But the 5-10 kinds we have, they’re generally all really good. —- Also, it sounds like they want to maybe add an MH-60 R/S or even modified AEW/ASW V-22 …. and suddenly our ARGs are some of the most dangerous things on the seas… an LHD/LHA with F-35s, an LPD with potent defensive and offensive firepower, organic ASW and AEW (maybe) assets, and oh yeah, guess what, an entire MEU that can land on your shores, kill your bad guys and occupy your real estate. Add in a DDG or two and this becomes the quintessential Expeditionary Strike Group. Let me quote the modern Starksy & Hutch movie: ” Do it do it. Do it. …. Do it.”

    • NavySubNuke

      I’m not sure they have the space or weight reservation for 80 VLS cells but there is certainly room for 20 – 30. Weight would actually be the biggest concern.
      Regardless, an excellent idea that they are hopefully already including in the LPD Flight II design and something that could easily be implemented in older ships during a multi-year mid-life overhaul and upgrade should the Navy choose to take that route.
      The more teeth we can add to the fight the better! And adding extra shields in the form of ESSMs and SM-2/6 (which also can be teeth if needed) is only going to improve things for everyone.

      • PolicyWonk

        Add to the above, the notion of the “arsenal plane” that started off quietly, languished, then quickly got very loud, and suddenly went very silent (presumably, because its being worked on). I recall seeing the summary proposal on the 747 variant from Boeing, that carried a staggering number of missiles – practically enough to alter the balance of power in a given region – being available anywhere on the planet in mere hours, being added to the mix.

        A fleet of arsenal planes that could be rotated in/out of a given region, providing a huge (and continually refreshed, if necessary) supply of very mobile firepower, when added to the potential capacity of the San Antonios, etc., would be formidable indeed.

        • NavySubNuke

          I love the militarized arsenal plane idea. Especially when equipped with a datalink and standoff weapons like LRASM and potentially a conventional version of LRSO.
          I’d be interested to see how many missiles a arsenal version of the P-8 could carry since it is already militarized unlike the 747. Pull out the ASW gear, expand the bomb bay and maybe toughen up the wings to carry more missiles.
          Having a common supply line with the P8 for 90% of the parts and a common flight school/training pipeline for 80% of the training events along with better economies of scale for the initial purchase itself would reap some serious dividends even if it does produce a smaller product that can carry less missiles. It should also, in theory anyway, be ready years early since a lot of the design is already done and in use today.

          • PolicyWonk

            I heard that options included (for militarized aircraft) for the arsenal plane included:
            – Militarized 747 (huge global infrastructure to support it): the 747 is “camouflaged” as a passenger bus/freighter, and wouldn’t attract attention no matter where it was (unlike the obviously military options)
            – B-52
            – B-1
            – C-17, and even the venerable
            – C-5

            The P-8 was not in the option list that I saw, but I see your point.


          • Centaurus

            What good is an Assault ship in the Navy if it can’t blow-up stuff from a distance ?
            CIWS on an LPD is as good as lipstick on a pig.We may as well give the Marines javelins…the little kind, used in Roman Times !
            I thought assault meant to assault stuff., sooo lets blow stuff up !

          • PolicyWonk

            Heh – you might’ve read about the Marines successfully testing HIMARS from the deck of an LPD (I forget which one).

            People act like its a big deal, but the real question is: what took ’em so long? Wasn’t this painfully obvious?

            BTW – CIWS is a defensive weapon.

          • RunningBear

            ASW, networking towed arrays behind each of the ARG ships would be a great baseline for the LPD MH-60R before processing local targets of interest.
            Fly Navy

      • Jim Denton

        Remember the navy term “Jumboize” used to describe the stretch applied to WW2 vintage T3 Cimmaron, Mispillion and Ashtabula class tankers postwar.

        These ships were designed and built in a modular fashion, it is not beyond the reach of the engineers to design either a single or double set of hull sections (depending on which works better from a functional point-of-view) to be inserted at the existing joints. I would image this would be the most economical way to design and build the Flight II hulls, and could be eventually retrofitted to existing hulls once the first few have the bugs worked out in the fleet.

      • RunningBear

        “…but there is certainly room for 20 – 30. Weight would actually be the biggest concern.”

        The existing LPD-17-29 have the area reserved for “16 Mk 41 VLS cells to be installed” on the bow, as is. It was to be removed for the Flt. II, but I haven’t confirmed the final configuration.

        Also….it is proposed, those 16 cells could be stuffed with “the RIM-162 ESSM has the ability to be “quad-packed” in the Mk 41 vertical launching system, allowing 4 missiles to be carried per launch cell”
        Fly Navy

    • Imagine a Marine observing a CVN and saying, “We should carve a big well deck into that thing to haul all our tanks and artillery, and imagine 80 helos on that flight deck! We could carry an entire brigade on one carrier.” Of course this idea is preposterous, and yet armchair tinkerers actually think we should ignore the vital ‘gator space’ on amphib ships and convert them to non-amphibious ‘light’ carriers and ‘arsenal’ boats for blue water naval warfare. Not. Gonna. Happen.

      It’s easy to point at a weather deck and say, “put 80 missiles there,” but so much more space is needed than that, and Marine tanks, trucks and troops must be cast overboard to accommodate it all. This includes magazine storage, specialized radar/sonar systems, hangar space for ASW helos, fire control space, and berthing, fuel and food for all the additional techs, helo crews, maintainers, logisticians and other blue GI’s who won’t be going ashore. Each extra sailor means one less Marine, same with each missile, and each ASW helo likely displaces 10 or more Marines and their bird too. Not. Gonna. Happen.

      We can likewise dispense with the ‘light carrier’ concept using the America Class LHAs, as the USN will not be buying VSTOL F-35Bs and the USMC primarily specializes their F-35Bs and training for CAS. Those LHAs are for maximizing air support to the amphibious mission with some humanitarian relief on the side.

      So, just as Marines look at a vessel or aircraft and fantasize about ‘phibbing’ it, sailors look at the gator fleet and fantasize about up-gunning it, displacing the assault force, and commandeering flight decks (and aircraft) for anti-sub, anti-air and anti-ship warfare. Not. Gonna. Happen.

      Hint: Build magnificent CVNs, destroyers and subs, and have THEM bring the up-gunned arsenal (and without Marines crowding the chow lines, yes?).

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        I actually feel bad that I am going to have to explain to you how wrong you are when I know deep down you felt like you had your own little mic-drop moment, all in the name of the Marine Corps. Unfortunately while you used cool terms like “weather deck” and “dispense” and “chow lines” you don’t seem to understand the facts of the world we live in.

        Every day that goes by, a successful amphibious landing by the USMC becomes less likely due to the massive proliferation of A2/AD weapons across the globe- and this is not just the cutesy “Oh the LITTORALS!” arguments of the early 2000s… although there is certainly that… but supersonic antiship missiles expected to *at least* be competitive to our best defensive systems, but anti-ship ballistic missiles capable of probably destroying battle groups (they haven’t even been able to come up with a way to test a way to defeat it yet… let that sink in…) and massive purchasing of significant “littoral” armaments by everyone from major “peer” countries, to tin-pot dictators, to internet-crowd-funded terrorist groups. I mean the first time an ESSM was fired in combat was against terrorists in the Red Sea with Chinese ASMs. …

        So while those Marines are making fun of us trying to up-gun the ships that carry them to the fight, they better start realizing they’re going to be more likely to croak in the ship that’s carrying them way before they storm the beach.

        And so we’re clear- I think that’s TERRIBLE, and while I have no combat experience and admit I am pretty much the definition of a keyboard commando (Although in a way, that is an affront to my Warrior Spirit…) , I cannot even begin to think about what goes through your mind when you’re a Marine storming a beach — but I am sure it has to be even worse thinking, “Word was just passed down that China/Russa/Etc. have launched a concentrated, massed, effective missile attack against our ARG/ESG/Fleet of ships/etc. And we’re probably going to get killed on the ship….” Red Storm Rising , so many years ago, highlighted how that works.

        And you’re going to laugh at the idea of putting defensive (and also offensive) weapons on the ships that carry those Marines on the ships while they’re busy laughing at us trying to come up with ways to improve their survivability? It’s literally the focus of both the USMC and significant areas of Navy leadership right now.

        One of the biggest concerns in the USMC leadership right now is the future “fight to get to the fight” — this story and the info from Gen Coffmann come *directly* from Gen Neller who thinks this is perhaps the biggest issue facing the future of the USMC.

        But surely we should discuss crowded chow lines, yes?

        PS — You do realize that literally the USMC General this article was written on basically said, what he wants is more weapons and defensive/offensive systems on the ships they have right now, right? Just want to clear that part up for you if reading comprehension was not a big part of your SAT score. (I beat like, what was it, 94? or was it 97? percent of the country on that… so…. )

        • First, thanks for the comprehension insults, but I’ll instead choose the high road. Second, the article was about a Marine general advocating for more amphib capacity (38 ships) and more readiness, not the reduction of capacity by displacing the assault force. (He did not mention ASW or VLS). Third, Marines don’t “make fun of ships getting them to the fight,” they actually appreciate the vessels YOU now consider inadequate. So, go ahead, keep bashing this fleet. I won’t.

          Amphibs have close-in weapons systems that occupy minimal external space while the outer defense is by design provided by other fleet elements similar to carrier battle groups (CBGs). Many mistakenly assume that a 2- or 3-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is all alone, but that is only during the peacetime non-contingency phase (99%) when they must disperse for landing exercises that are of little value to surface combatants. As tensions rise, the ARG links with surface and subsurface combatants, either within or separate from a CBG’s defense umbrella. Thus fleet economy is ideal, as cruisers, destroyers and frigates can feature (and actually fit!) the most advanced and specialized sensors, aircraft, missiles, specialists, maintainers, and utility support equipment instead of expecting amphibs to carry them all.

          Of course, you would be compelled to adopt this very argument if I were to demand that CVNs carry a hundred VLS cells, long range SM-2, SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles, SSN-quality sonar and perform all the ASW missions instead of their fleet escorts. Please explain why CVNs don’t need all that aboard without admitting what I just illustrated. Mic drop.

        • All right boys, no comprehension insults required.

          However, TMark, I have to agree with Ser Arthur’s underlying premise.

          I think we (Marines) need to re-think our dedication to “waterborne” amphibious assault.

          We have wet dreams (pun, amphibious assault is wet) about hitting the beaches at Tarawa, Pelelieu, Iwo Jima and Saipan.

          But Amphibious assault simply means it comes from the water. it doesn’t mean it needs to ride ON the water.

          We cannot hit a modern beach defended by a peer or near-peer adversary without suppressing enemy IADS and shore based ASW missile systems. To do so would be an unmitigated slaughter that would make Tarawa look like a kindergarten field trip to the zoo.

          If the IADS and ASW capabilities are suppressed, we can maneuver ashore via air-assault far faster and with far greater tactical flexibility than with AAV’s/ACV’s.

          Sure, we will still need the LCAC’s and LCU’s to bring ashore the heavier equipment, and the LPD well decks will be more than sufficient for those needs.

          But more grunts on the ground faster, with less breathing water due to ventilation of their AAV’s/ACV’s will be the answer to future amphibious assault.

          • Imagine an ASW frigate moving all its weapons, helos and half its crew onto an LPD, then repeat that for anti-air/anti-ship/land-attack destroyers and cruisers. Bye-bye Marines, as there would be no space left. The answer already exists: an Expeditionary Strike Group which combines dedicated amphibs with protective escorts; essentially and ARG-plus. One ESG is forward deployed right now.

            This debate illustrates the great naval philosophical divide. Shall we see only the trees or the broader forest? Some look at a solitary vessel (the ‘tree’) and imagine themselves aboard it and fighting alone, and they immediately demand that it cover EVERY vulnerability. Naval planners and budgetary realists see the ‘forest’ and know better. Thus a fleet-wide defensive plan.

            This explains why CVNs don’t have a hundred VLS cells (or even one!), don’t have SSN quality sonar, don’t have mounted ASW weapons. Routine steaming of a CVN features limited close-range mounted weapons (just like LPDs/LHDs do) and at most two alert aircraft carrying about 12 anti-air missiles combined. The answer for both carriers and ARGs is well armed escorts networked with high-end long-range systems that would otherwise crowd out CVN/ARG capability if installed aboard. Fortunately, this ‘forest’ view continues winning the day since WW-1.

          • I see your point, and it is valid to the degree that adding those capabilities has a “significant” detrimental effect on ARG vessels ability to perform their primary mission.
            But it is also true that we will simply, realistically have a limited number of hulls in the water, and the more distributed our lethality is, as well as the sensor network that drives those weapons employment, the more effective it will be.
            the LPD Flight 1’s were designed to be able to have VLS cells added after the fact. My understanding (and I’m no more than a lay-expert on these topics) is that doing so would have a negligible impact on the vessels other capabilities. It’s a relatively modest number of cells, but remember that in a fleet air/missile defense mode, those cells carry more than 1 missile per cell.
            Adding that capability, to ensure each ship adds to the fight, is a no brainer to me, unless it has a significant impact on the primary mission capabilities.
            Adding the capability into the Flight II LPD’s is even more of a no-brainer. We can in fact build a ship that does everything needed of it for the ARG mission and which adds to the offensive and defensive capability of the overall group.
            But my biggest issue is with the LHA well deck. We simply are not going to be launching LCAC’s and AAV’s/ACV’s against a shoreline that is defended with any type of Anti-ship missiles.
            The stand-off will be too great. initial assault waves under those conditions will REQUIRE suppression of enemy shore based IADS in order to make an aerial assault – which will be easier than taking out enough of the ASW missile sites to bring the amphibs in close enough to launch AAV’s/ACV’s.
            By all means, keep the well decks on the small hulls (LPD flights 1 and 2) so we preserve the capability for lower intensity missions as well as the host of other missions we use them for.
            But for the peer and near pear adversary, we will need more of the F35B’s and more MV22’s, as well as whatever replaces the Osprey. For that, we need aviation space, not well decks.
            I’m no winger. And I’ve been out for 2 decades, but I follow this closely because one day my kids may wear those boots ( I hope) and waterborne assault against a peer level force in todays technological slaughterhouse is worse than suicide, it’s straight up murder on the part of the commanding officers.’

          • I appreciate your note. The existing architecture in the LPD-17’s for potential VLS cells may be wise and flexible thinking, just not geared toward multi-mission usage. Considering the primary mission, I would expect land attack and maybe anti-air, but any anti-sub or anti-ship mission would require so many other system installations, sensors, specialized crew and helos which just won’t get budgeted.

            One issue not mentioned before is that missile launches are incompatible with busy flight operations. All amphib vessels, like CVNs, have busier flight decks than surface combatants. When a Standard or Tomahawk missile roars off a destroyer, it’s airborne helo can easily wait for the smoke to clear and a ‘green’ deck to resume. And all those DDG crew members are buttoned up inside.

            Not so for the hectic tempo of an LHA, LHD or LPD. It’s not just the aviators, but the troops to consider. Like CVNs, the flight pattern of amphibs dictates that missile launches should originate from escorts.

            Regarding the newer LHA’s without a well deck, there is one problem I’m aware of. While 3/4ths of the assault force is delivered by air (all in the first hour), about 2/3rds of the ‘tonnage’ must travel by landing craft over the next 48 hours. LHDs and the older LHAs were more than flattops; they were floating warehouses with everything from hospital tents to spare tank engines. The helo group is still tactically disposed during the first few days, and pilots are willing to risk their lives to move rifle squads, but not thrilled about slinging pallets, fuel bladders and Humvees. Helo safety and maintenance requires that any non-critical supplies get floated to the beach. And that’s 2/3rds of everything.

            So a new America Class LHA must be accompanied by at least two other amphibs with well decks to transport a battalion-based Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and all supplies. The Wasp Class LHD’s (with a well deck), however, can pair up with just one LPD-17 to transport a MEU crammed aboard. The new LHA concept, therefore, assumes a 3-ship ARG backed by a healthy fleet of 35+ amphibs. And I just don’t see 38 amphibs being affordable if we load them with every sensor, missile system, operators and maintainers discussed here.

          • Good discussion.
            My understanding is that the standard ARG for a MEU is a single LHA and 2 smaller LPD style. With the move to the LPD flight II to replace the LSD’s, the capacity increase would be sufficient to meet the MEU’s waterborne amphib needs.
            I see your point on missile ops disturbing flight ops, but my sense is that flight ops on the LPD’s will not be at the tempo of the LHA, thereby further justifying using available space and tonnage on the LPD’s to disaggregate the “arsenal ship” capability.
            The sensor shooter platforms would remain the DDG’s and CG’s. The LPD’s would simply be packing more rounds.
            But to your point of focusing on the primary capability, the LHA is a flat top. It’s primary existence is flight operations, but we are degrading that in order to stuff it full of waterborne transport that is less critical to the future mission.
            The f35B will be the critical node of future amphibious assault and future evolutions of vertical lift will be even more capable.
            For the MEU, more vertical capability will produce far more mission capability and flexibility than more waterborne.
            Again, I still think the 3 ship ARG with 2 LPD’s (or LPD/LSD with current hulls) and an LHA is the right model. I just don’t think the LHA’s need the well deck.
            Also for a MEB, I think you are looking at 4 LHA’s and 12 LPD-I/LPD-II(LSD). That would then be supported by non-combatant shipping for more heavy lift.
            If all those LHA’s were still the Flight 0 style (Without well deck), that would still provide a capacity for 10 LCAC’s and 7 LCU’s, and more than 150 AAV’s.
            So, here’s a compromise idea;
            Alternate building Flight I LHA’s with a flight II design that looses the well deck but fixes the other issues.
            MEU’s would then be built around whichever hull made more sense for the mission area.
            But when a MEB deploys, the LHA flight I hulls (with well deck) would take over all air assault functions coordinating with the LPD’s to launch the MV22 waves.
            While the Flight II hulls (or flight 0, the ones without the dell deck), would prioritize the CAS mission in support of the assault. That way your not trying to land MV22’s to pick up troops on a deck that is also servicing F35’s at the same time.
            All the LHA’s would still carry the mixed wing in regular deployment, but for a major landing, would transfer all MV-22 ops to the hulls with the well decks and all F-35 ops to the hulls without.

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            He started it.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        I think your analysis is spot on! Gee, imagine how many weapons can be crammed into one of the Navy’s hospital ships? Where does it stop?

    • Secundius

      Eight BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) Ships were ordered and subsequently cancelled in 2013 by the 2011 Sequestration. Each would have mounted ~288 VLS and a single 6.1-inch Naval Gun, to be replaced by a 32-MJ Railgun at a later date…

  • RunningBear

    If it floats, it fights!

    Many here have dreamed of the amphib LHA in their CVL fairytale. But in truth the shipboard naval aviation requires a significant infrastructure beyond a new USS Palau.

    This article focuses on the USMC Amphibious Ready Group/ ARG with the LHA/D, LPD and the LSD. The LPD-17 USS San Antonio class of 13 new LPDs, (the last two of which are still in construction, LPD-28/29) have built into their architecture an allowance for 16 Mk 41 VLS cells to be installed (future). The VLS 41 cells are currently used on 186 ships in 11 navies. The new Flight II LPD-30s are proposed to replace the existing 12 LSD-41/44 and can also be fitted with the above VLS. One proposed version of the LPD-17 is a 288 cell VLS ship with radar.

    These ships are fitted with the USN Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), a real-time sensor netting system that enables high quality situational awareness and integrated fire control capability. It is designed to enhance the anti-air warfare
    (AAW) capability of U.S. Navy ships, U.S. Navy aircraft and U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Composite Tracking Network (CTN) units by the netting of geographically dispersed sensors to provide a single integrated air picture, thus enabling Integrated Fire Control to destroy increasingly capable threat cruise missiles and aircraft. This allows the amphibs to contribute to the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air/ NIFC-CA.
    Fly Navy

    • Curtis Conway

      Off the coast of California the USS America (LHA-6) has already demonstrated that it far exceeds the USS Palau (CVE-122) capability, if equipped and employed correctly. It just needs a V/STOVL AEW&C platform. All new LHAs should be so, regardless if they have a well-deck or not. The CIC contained should also be upgraded as described in the article, and new LPD Flt IIs should be as well. These upgrades include the EASR rotating 9-RMA SPY-6 which is a very capable 3D radar . . . it just ROTATES, with all the capabilities and limitations that entails.

      The MYP buys should be a matter of course so we can maximize our investment in growing the fleet, which is just common sense, so we will know what is going on if that does not transpire (politics not defense).

      The Mk41 VLS is probably the most exciting new capability which necessitates the communication, and CIC upgrades. Facilities for employing embarked vehicles that can also participate in the employment of weapons with items like 1) power, and 2) data must also be considered. Most of us remember the old WWII movies that almost always depicted the rockets launched from an LST, which were almost completely ineffective, but would be very effective with todays technology.

      I hope the plan is approved. Everybody is a shooter! Sinking, when the solution to your problem is potentially parked below decks, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      • RunningBear

        ” It just needs a V/STOVL AEW&C platform.” Each F-35 merges the on/off board sensors; radar, IR, EW streams as broadband streams to all the MADL nodes. This is in excess of what a AEW&C would share to the fleet and a/c. Thus an MV-22B RO/RO AEW/ISR F-35B sensor package could orbit the ARG/ESG and provide the MADL node datastreams to ships and a/c.

        The CEC/ NIFC-CA C2 systems have the ability to integrate the MADL data stream from the airborne F-35A/B/C in the area. The ship with a MADL node would be able to bring down the SA picture from the 30Kft. flight level of the area aircraft. This was demonstrated by the “BEE” and the USS LLS-1 in the SM-6 test at White Sands during 2016.

        In that regard, the F-35 can communicate the same data streams to all CEC shipboard systems as MADL nodes. In my opinion, all the aircraft in the ARG/ ESG should be sharing the same SA data stream as MADL nodes; H-1/53/60, V-22, etc. The retrofit is a <50# computer interface and a MADL antenna; either ship or a/c. Recently the USN discovered this capability on the USS Wasp and is now investigating the feasibility.
        Fly Navy

        PS: MADL is LPD/LPI "line of sight" broadband datalink in the Ku band (satcomm-ish) and……MADL doesn't compromise the location of either the transmitter or receiver (a/c or ship) for aggressor localization, unlike Link16.

        • Duane

          Yup – the F-35 truly transforms the entire fleet. And despite the fact that it’s only been in the fleet for about a year now, the eyes are opening to what it can deliver in increased lethality.

          One or two squadrons of F-35Bs on an LHA or LHD is worth much more than four squadrons of F/A-18s on a CVN.

          The Navy better get cracking and order many more F-35Cs and get them deployed on CVNs ASAP, or they will be outperformed by the amphibs.

          • NavySubNuke

            “One or two squadrons of F-35Bs on an LHA or LHD is worth much more than four squadrons of F/A-18s on a CVN.”
            Yikes. That is certainly an “interesting” viewpoint….

          • Duane

            A 15-24 kill ratio against any other fourth gen fighter we have is one part of that … but it goes far beyond air to air combat capability. The F-35 simply does things that no other fighter on earth has ever done before. It is a flying computer and combat management data center – a key node in NIFCCA linking remote sensors with ships and other aircraft and ground forces, all of which can then fight independently from distributed positions. It has the world’s best airborne missile sensors, such that the Navy and the MDA now intend to use F-35s to serve as frontline sensors and interceptors for both nuclear ICBMs (boost phase) and anti-ship ballistic missiles wherever China and North Korea choose to deploy them. Thus F-35s will be a key asset in neutralizing China’s so-called “carrier killer” BMs. F-35s now deploy our most powerful fighter-based radar jamming capability, and being stealthy they can penetrate far closer to enemy radars and either jam them or fire anti-radiation missiles to take them out. They are also highly effective ship killers, armed with anti-ship cruise missiles (NSMs carried internally on the C-model, externally on the B model, and virtually any other ASCM such as LRASM carried externally).

            Finally, the B model can deploy from virtually anywhere on land, as well as from our flat tops. Meaning, it does not take big infrastructure, large air bases to operate. It can land and take off, and be serviced from (including hot fueling and weapon reloads) from tiny LZs, even when the Chinese crater the runways on our land air bases.

            It is a transformational weapons system.

          • NavySubNuke

            The B version doesn’t have that kind of kill ratio — that is the -A version and only in exercises anyway. Besides the limitations on the -B variant make it impossible for it to carry all that much ordinance when it has to take off in a vertical configuration.
            Without a doubt the -B is the best VSTOL aircraft in the world and a squadron of them is better then 4 squadrons of the harriers they are replacing. And there ability to deploy from anywhere will be key given the reach of China’s conventional GLCMs/GLBMs.
            But saying a squadron of B’s off of an amphib is worth 4 squadrons of super hornets flying off a CVN? Nope. Especially not if there are a few Growlers mixed in to level the EW field.

          • Senior Chief

            “kill ratio?” LOL again the feet admiral has a “vision” while sitting in his mom’s basement smoking whatever

          • RunningBear

            “…-B … all that much ordinance when it has to take off in a vertical
            configuration.” Actually the “Bee” doesn’t carry “any” weapons when deck relocating in a vertical flight mode.

            But….in VSTOL it can carry 15Klbs.+ of ordinance internal and external stations, including the gun pod. Almost twice as much as a WWII B-17E.
            Fly Navy

          • RunningBear

            As of 2018, the USN has received 30 F-35C vs. the 247 F-35A by the USAF and allies.

            30 F-35C are at four USN squadrons VFA-101/ Eglin, VFA-125(FRS)/ Lemoore, VFA-147/ Lemoore, VX-9/ Edwards. In 2019 VFA-101 will dis-establish and transfer their aircraft to VFA-125/ Lemoore.

            With the conclusion of IOT&E (2019) and the endorsement of full production of the F-35s, it seems the USN will finally proceed with IOC for the F-35C.

            Currently the USN has proposed deliveries of; 14/2019, 10/2020, 15/2021 with 10 aircraft assigned to each USN F-35C squadron. BTW, 2021 will be the Tech Refresh 3 upgrades with Block 4.2 software.

            Fly Navy

          • Matthew Schilling

            It has always made sense to me that the Navy was moving the slowest on the F-35. Let the Air Force do the beta testing. Concurrency made beta testing much more important and extensive – so thank you AF!
            Aren’t there multiple F-35A’s that are orphaned, because they were built and delivered before some key upgrade or fix was introduced that they lack? There should be a lot less of that for the Navy.
            Even better engines are in the works, but that was never a good enough reason to wait. But, the Navy was right to set a fairly high bar for the minimum required maturity of the platform before committing an underway CSG to the care of a squadron of F-35’s.

          • RunningBear

            “Concurrency made beta testing much more important and extensive – so thank you AF!”

            No plane is left behind! Adm. Winters, JPO exec. has provided a proposal to the DOD to upgrade “all” of the existing F-35s to the current Tech Refresh 2, Block 3F status. This would enable all the F-35s to upgrade to the coming Block 4.1 upgrade next year, 2019.

            Aside from the various lots that have been tested by the service squadrons, the concurrency fixes have been budgeted and installed as the aircraft have become available, all along. No new cockpits, no new tails, no new mid-fuselage fixes to be had. That said, the USMC has steadily been upgrading the bulkheads on their F-35B all along and should be winding down that weakness from their over aggressive effort for weight reduction, early in the JSF program.

            So now we are down to computer hardware and software upgrades. Future hardware changes will “probably” involve the application of new weapons, as they are certified. Technology progresses and the newer, later versions of DAS, EOTS, etc., etc. will replace the existing sensors, in place.

            LRIP/Lot 15 in 2021 will introduce the Tech Refresh 3 with computer/memory upgrades, upgraded displays, and IIRC the introduction of the new PW upgrades for the F-135; all cut-in to the existing production lines.

            Back to your comment about the Navy dragging in last, they will also be the last to integrate their F-35C into their tactics. Because of the USMC aboard the USS Wasp, they are discovering the benefits of shipboard communications with the aircraft with the broadband MADL data streams from the merged sensors, SA for the ship (OTH radar/IR/EW); kinda’ like turning on a light in a dark room!

            That data fed to the ships of the ARG will prepare them and the Marines for the SA required for their missions in foreign waters while dealing with aggressors. Perhaps, even being able to dodge the deadly ocean going oil tankers ( 🙁 )!
            Fly Navy

          • Ser Arthur Dayne


            I am a guy who loves data and I very much enjoy reading the specifics of how many units of specific models of specific pieces of hardware are bought/delivered/etc. and where they are etc. — May I ask, is your info publicly available or is it your ahem trade secrets etc? Thanks!

          • RunningBear

            Public, Public, Public; This is one of the most public documented DOD programs that I have ever followed.

            In that an airplane, is an airplane, is an airplane. Others (China) can take the pictures and mimic their version but the essence of the F-35 is in the fit, finish and function. That last part is the guts of the program and without it, you just have another “purty” new airplane.

            There are several detailed websites that maintain databases for the program deliveries and the public contracts from DOD are a reference for what is ordered and when to be delivered.
            Fly Navy

      • Centaurus

        Oh, I can feel veins in my teeth !

  • Uncle Mike

    ‘Instead of having to be protected, why don’t you put something on offer to be part of the killers?”

    God bless the Marines.

    • NavySubNuke

      They certainly have a way of cutting through the BS and getting to the heart of the issue!

      • PolicyWonk

        More often than not being the first one’s committed to battle has a way of focusing/clarifying ones thoughts and priorities!

      • yeah, but typically we go for the heart with the K-bar or bayonet 🙂

  • Lazarus

    N95 is spot on here. LPD 17 was designed with space for VLS forward. The LHD’s and new LHA’s have functioned as limited light carriers.

  • Mike Mazock Sr.

    No talk of naval gun fire support improvements, disappointing!

    • Duane

      The General didn’t get into specific systems, but with increased lethality, that obviously implies weapons. Whether those weapons are guns or missiles, and which, is TBD. Big guns are not useful anymore in the age of missiles, but smaller guns with high rates of fire and precision guided projectiles certainly have a role in warfighting, especially in the littorals where we’re likely to face swarms of fast boats, both manned and unmanned, and UAVs as well.

      We can also equip these ships with better ASW sensors and weapons as well.

      • Mud Fan

        A 2700lb chunk of dense steel travelling at 3000 ft/sec is a lot harder to stop then tin can traveling 800ft/sec. Only a matter of time till thats figured out on the battlefield.

      • BigBob

        Here’s come the “The 57mm is the greatest weapon ever” slobbering and spitting rants

    • Until we get the rail gun working, there will be no transformational change in ballistic fires.

      All the advancements are in missile tech.

      Once the rail gun is finally GTG, they will probably test deploy it on the DDG-1000’s (which should have been CG’s, but whatever).

      After that, then we’ll get around to putting them on anything floating that generates enough juice and can support the storage requirements.

      ironically, it may be the CVN’s that host them, as the little glowing battery compartments will be the most effective at cranking out the juice needed.

  • Duane

    This is definitely the way to go.

    But the General made it clear that it would never have been possible to do this without fifth gen aircraft like the F-35B. It is truly a transformational aircraft system. It does not just transform aerial combat and air to ground combat, it transforms the entire fleet in terms of networked sensors and shooters. It transforms amphibs from being vessels that need to be protected by other vessels, into vessels that can protect themselves, and also protect other vessels too.

  • C.E.Rice

    LHA 2 SAIPAN carried (as I recall) three 5″ guns. How those weapons were supposed to be integrated, I do not know. But, at least the concept is not totally new.

    • Ed L

      Yeah, I remember the LHA’s one thought three came out of the yards with 5 inch guns. which were removed due to some stupid treaty with the Soviets that stripped the gators of Fire control operated guns. If I remember correctly the 5 inch on the LHA’s were said to be offensive weapons. Defensive weapons were only allowed because of that treaty

      • The 5″ guns were removed because they added very little to no value to teh effectiveness of the ship (Gator Freighters also have NO BUSINESS operating within 5″ range of a hostile shore), and removing them expanded their available flight deck area, maximizing a function they actually use.

        • Ed L

          They put a CIWC in place of the 5 inch. I believe 5 inch do have a place Ask the survivors of Taffy 3. My Uncle was there

    • C.E.Rice

      5″ guns may not be suitable for near-peer enemies, but in this age of disaggregated ops, it might not be a bad trade off to have some NGF on amphibs. Just thinking out loud. Also, anyone know the cost – benefit analysis between cost of a 5″ and a VLS system? Just curious.

  • I love every aspect of this with one exception.

    Get rid of the damn well deck on the LHA8 and other flight 1 models.

    Future amphibious assault will be predominately aviation centric from the sea. The LPD well decks will be sufficient to preserve enough waterborne amphibious assault for the smaller scale operations in which it will be needed.

    If we ever actually try to land a MEB against a contested shoreline, 8 LPD hulls will be sufficient for putting initial waves near shore to land once the zoomies take down ASW missile sites and clear the skies. We’ll be landing 2/3rds of the MEB via MV22, not AAV’s or ACV’s

    I get it, LHA6 has some overall issues (hospital is too small), that needed correcting, but the well deck on the big hull is a mistake. Sacrificing aircraft handling capability for well deck means sacrificing 5th gen capability for 2nd gen.

    Let Bougainville (LHA8) be the ONLY LHA with a well deck, and revert LHA9 + to a Flight II design which takes the flight 0 (America) and fixes the hospital while retaining the overall aviation centric capacities.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Oh Geeze, THIS ‘conversation’ again? The Marines are screaming for more amphibious lift and capabilities. It’s one thing to ‘bolt on’ above deck systems like RAM/SeaRAM and/or Phalanx to add more self-protection, but it’s quite another thing to take away valuable and limited primary mission space to supposedly contribute to the group or fleet’s offensive and defensive firepower. There are already specialized ships for that. If the Navy wants to develop a specialized variant of the LPD-17 to be an actual warship INSTEAD of an amphib, that’s an entirely different animal than that of trying to modify existing ships into ‘hybrids’. Possessing certain systems and weapons often requires maneuver and positioning to best utilize their employment. Would that be feasible while Marines and their equipment are still onboard? The LPD-17s are NOT DESIGNED to be anything other than amphib ships. To successfully accomplish the TIMELY maneuvering and positioning mentioned earlier will no doubt require much more than simply carving out space and dropping in VLS cells and the required gear to operate those weapons, the propulsion systems might have to be changed out as well. How much power and fuel might a propulsion system require to make such a hull fast enough? The article does mention modified LPD-17s cruising with CGs and DDGs performing traditional warfare roles, and then ‘sneaking up’ on adversaries to perform expeditionary warfare tasks. Well, the LPD-17s are currently listed at achieving a max speed of 22 knots! Whats next, submarines being outfitted with Aegis? Tankers and hospital ships having dozens of VLS cells installed? Give me a break.

    If the Navy desires a capability to have warships ‘sneak up’ on an enemy to deposit troops on his shores or possessions, they might already have the platform for that. The LCS is fast enough to sail with DDGs and CGs. Although their firepower is quite limited, their sensor suites should be able to contribute to group capabilities, and their stealth and ‘dash speed’ abilities make them better candidates (to me anyways) to ‘sneak up’ on those enemies to deposit troops ashore, at the least to perhaps facilitate the bigger amphibs following up and enlarging the footholds the LCS troops achieve. That makes more sense than taking away specialized capabilities like those of dedicated amphibs!