Ships of the Surface Fleet: Amphibious Assault Ships (LHD/LHA)
A little more than 72 years ago Allied Forces of World War II invaded northern France in an unprecedented amphibious assault on the Normandy coast. The brutally difficult, and nearly unsuccessful, beach landings known as D-Day would eventually become an international day of remembrance. Although the United States hasn’t had to project power in an amphibious landing of such magnitude since, our nation stays ready should the need arise.
Part of that poise includes maintaining an incredibly adaptable amphibious force made up of equipment and personnel from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. An element of the Naval Surface Force operations, this amphibious team includes a number of vessels known as the General Purpose Amphibious Assault Ships (LHA) and Wasp Class Multiple Purpose Amphibious Assault Ships (LHD). Designed to launch troops on enemy shores, our amphibious force, the largest and most capable amphibious force in the world, can readily access 75% of the world’s beaches.
Often referred to as “big deck amphibs” or “mini-aircraft carriers,” amphibious assault ships are the largest of all amphibious warfare ships, with LHDs being slightly bigger than LHAs. Both platforms are capable of launching and recovering aircraft in multiple ways. Their flight decks are designed to accommodate Vertical/Short Take-off and Landing (V/STOL), Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL), Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) tilt-rotor and Rotary Wing (RW) aircraft operations. Unique amongst the amphibious assault ships, USS America (LHA 6) and the future USS Tripoli (LHA 7) do not feature well decks – a space near the waterline historically used to move large volumes of heavy equipment.
These LHAs are somewhat more similar to aircraft carriers because they’re designed to be aviation-centric in power projection. More specifically, they’ve been tailored to accommodate Marine Corps Air Combat Elements including the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and MV-22 Osprey. They include an enlarged hangar deck, enhanced aviation maintenance facilities, increased aviation fuel capacity, additional aviation storerooms, and an electronically reconfigurable Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) suite. Although its name has yet to be announced, the future LHA 8 will reincorporate a well deck. Moving forward, well decks are planned for all future LHAs and LHDs to support the use of Landing Craft, Air Cushioned (LCAC) and other watercraft vehicles, which will provide increased operational flexibility.
Despite these differences both the LHA and LHD platforms share a similar purpose. They help project power and maintain presence through their place in Amphibious Readiness Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups. They’re used to transport and land elements of Marine Expeditionary Units or Marine Expeditionary Brigades. Troops can be moved from ship-to-shore through a combination of aircraft and landing craft to provide a rapid buildup of combat power. The ships’ unique ability to get close to shore and transport a wide spectrum of equipment and troops in a highly efficient manner has also made them highly effective in support of humanitarian, disaster relief and other types of contingent operations.
From offering assistance to our own country or a partner nation abroad, to protecting and defending democracy, our amphibious force stands ready, willing, and able to do the nation’s work.
Please check back for future installments to learn more about the different types of ships that comprise the U.S. Navy Surface Fleet.