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.
Guest Blog By: Lt. Brianna Frazier, Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor
I’ve always had an interest in Amphibious Warfare- it’s so dynamic and interdependent. It’s arguably the most complex warfare area in the U.S. Navy due to the work it requires with both our Sailors and Marines. When I heard about the Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) program, I didn’t hesitate to apply. I wanted to be a part of something new and was excited for the opportunity to specialize in a field that I’m passionate about. I graduated from the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center’s (SMWDC) first Amphibious WTI class in Little Creek, Virginia, May 26, 2016.
As a WTI, I provide warfare doctrinal guidance and mentorship to underway watch teams during amphibious operations. I also provide guidance during Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and Marine Expeditionary Unit work up cycles, and provide feedback during doctrinal reviews to help ensure all amphibious warfare doctrines remain current and relevant. However, I had no idea just how soon my new skillset would be battle tested at sea in a major Navy exercise.
My first post-graduation event, exercise Bold Alligator 2016 (BA16) ran from August 15 to August 25 and the mission was primarily to train Expeditionary Strike Group Two (ESG-2) and the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade (2MEB). I acted as Battle Watch Captain aboard USS Bataan (LHD 5) and led a team of watch standers in flag plot, ship-to-shore evolutions, enemy air and surface engagements, and small boat escorts to protect Sailors and Marines at sea and ashore. The Battle Watch Captain is a tactical watch station that functions as the representative for the Composite Warfare Commander of the ARG. This position has direct access to the admiral and acts on their behalf for permissions and orders regarding all warfare areas under the admiral’s purview. It was intense and intimidating at first. However, I was well received as the subject matter expert by both the staff of ESG-2 and the crew of Bataan. Whether in my role as Battle Watch Captain, or during my time off the watch floor as a tactical mentor, the Sailors and Marines on board were open to my guidance and suggestions.
I’m humbled that the Navy chose me as the junior level go-to person for amphibious doctrine and tactics in BA16 and I’m proud to see Navy leadership welcoming WTI graduates into the fold. In fact, WTIs are now in high demand throughout the fleet – everybody wants one on their ship to help raise the tactical proficiency of their unit and their Sailors. While there are currently only 9 of us Amphibious WTIs, 12 more are set to graduate from SMWDC next month. I’m confident that as the WTI program grows, we’ll be able to provide a service to the amphibious fleet unlike any that has existed before. Junior Surface Warfare Officers are laying the framework for the future of the Amphibious Navy — thanks to SMWDC’s cultural reinvestment in tactics, training, doctrine and people.
Blog By: Vice Admiral Tom Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces
Every week it’s great to be in the Surface Force, and some weeks it’s better than that!
Last week was one of those weeks and I am excited to share three big Surface Warfare “wins” that occurred during this very productive week.
First, we frocked a new group of Chief Petty Officers (CPOs), making the world’s greatest Navy just a little bit better. As an Honorary Chief, I took particular pride in being able to welcome new CPOs in a pinning ceremony while underway on USS Makin Island (LHD 8). While there are many milestones in an enlisted career, the pinning ceremony and transition to “Chief” – particularly while at sea on a Navy warship is certainly something special. Congratulations again to all of our new Chief Petty Officers!
Second, the week’s announcement of the Surface Warfare Officer Department Head Retention Bonus (SWO DHRB) makes sure we are rewarding superior performance at sea as we retain our very best division officers to serve as department heads at sea. Not only have the bonuses been increased overall, they are now tiered so that those who screen in their first look receive the highest incentive to stay, with second look screeners in turn receiving a greater bonus than the baseline bonus that all SWO department heads receive. Looking forward, we believe the fleet will be the biggest beneficiary here as more of our best become department heads.
Finally, we ended the week with a huge Navy-Marine Corps bang when a simulated Aegis-configured ship engaged a low flying cruise missile target with a Standard Missile 6 (SM-6). Most significantly, this engagement was based solely on targeting data provided to the ship by the sophisticated sensors carried by a Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft.
As we look to the future, our F-35B configured LHAs or LHDs will not only be able to employ these aircraft in traditional ground support roles, but will also be able to use them to sense, target, and destroy low-flying cruise missiles or strike aircraft far beyond the horizon – a huge game-changer!
These three milestones highlight a few of our many efforts to build, shape and equip our next generation of leaders as they prepare to control the sea. Make no mistake, it’s a great time to be in the Surface Force!
“In the name of the United States, I christen thee Wichita,” Kate Lehrer will declare today, just before breaking a bottle of champagne against the bow of the future USS Wichita (LCS 13). Moments later, the new ship, named for the largest city in Kansas, will launch into the water and be well on her way to joining the U.S. Navy with service in the Naval Surface Force.
Such ceremonies are often punctuated with customs and traditions passed down from generation to generation. Sailors have spent centuries calling upon divine forces to protect them at sea, and believing christenings help bring good luck and safe travel to the ship and her crew. Christening-like ceremonies can be found in historical documents as far back as Babylonian times.
Today, long before a naval ship is christened, it gets a sponsor. At the invitation of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), each ship has a central figure, traditionally a woman, or a small group of women, who act as the ship’s sponsor into the fleet and become a part of that ship’s history. Although the crew will turnover many times throughout the ship’s lifespan, these designated sponsors are permanently connected to the ship. Most form a warm and lasting relationship with their ships, an affiliation rewarding to both entities. While the names of ships are formally chosen by the SECNAV, the sponsor has the honor of ceremonially christening, or naming, the vessel in the moments before it’s inserted into the water for the first time.
This introduction to the water is known as launching, which can be performed in a few basic ways. One common technique, called the end launch (because usually the stern, or end, enters first), involves having the ship glide down an inclined boat ramp, known as a slipway, into the water. When there’s not enough room in the waterway to introduce the ship lengthwise, it can be launched from the side. During a side launch, the ship moves down a slipway and enters the water broadside. Another method known as air-bag launching uses a series of inflatable tubes beneath the body of the ship to facilitate the ship’s glide into the water. Lastly, although not considered a true launch, if the ship was built in a basin or dry-dock, the space around the vessel can be filled with water until the ship floats in what is called a float-out.
The future USS Wichita (LCS 13) will be christened via a side launch in Marinette, Wisconsin today. The ship will then undergo a period of outfitting including electronics and weapons systems installation and testing before being delivered to the U.S. Navy for commissioning into active service in the near future.
The ship’s sponsor, Kate Lehrer, is a noted author and wife of the famous journalist, and Wichita native, Jim Lehrer.
Check out the christening and side launch of the future USS Sioux City (LCS 11), a ship the same type as Wichita, in this U.S. Navy YouTube video.
Have you ever stood in the middle of one of the big box retailers and rejoiced that they have so many affordable products available? Probably not. But you may notice when your favorite items are out of stock. This infographic shows how much money is spent on goods every second in the U.S., yet we often give little thought to how products are “shipped.”
The United States’ economic strength was founded and remains reliant on our ability to freely transit the seas. The same can be said for our trading partners around the world. To help ensure shipping lanes remain open for navigation—commercial or otherwise – the U.S. Navy, and particularly the Surface Fleet, works with our friends and allies to project power through the presence of combat-ready ships deployed around the world.
Over time the surface fleet’s main focus had become defending high-value and mission-essential units, such as aircraft carriers, and projecting power ashore. However, as the world changes, so too must the employment of the Navy. Today, we are incorporating new tactics to address modern threats ranging from low-end piracy to the navies of high-end nation-states, who are increasing their forces and challenging accepted maritime traditions.
The rise of potential adversaries and nations that challenge us at sea is the driving force behind the concept of ‘Distributed Lethality’. Distributed Lethality pushes to increase the lethality of surface ships as efficiently and opportunistically as possible by doing things like adding new weapons systems to ships that did not previously have them, or by practicing new tactics to reduce detection. Additionally, once upgraded, these more lethal ships can be operated in adaptive force packages, operating independently from the main fleet.
Operating ships in these new ways allows them to cover a wider geographic area and provides us more options when faced with potential threats. This wider coverage makes it harder for adversaries to figure out what we’re doing through intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems. The tougher it is for any maritime enemy of the U.S., or other entities hoping to disrupt international shipping lanes, to understand our ships’ movements and capabilities, the greater advantage we have at controlling the sea.
President George Washington once said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” That sentiment remains relevant today as we focus on the Navy’s ability to maintain command of the sea throughout the world as needed.
Indeed, we must be prepared to counter, and ultimately defeat, challenges as they arise. With increased offensive firepower, wider geographic distribution capabilities, and enhanced defensive capabilities, Distributed Lethality helps the Surface Fleet maintain sea control and ensure Americans and our allies are able to maintain their way of life.
The U.S. Navy’s Surface Fleet currently operates 19 warships named for Medal of Honor recipients; with 7 more to soon join the fleet. Today we recognize six of those Surface Force ships: USS Oscar Austin, USS Cole, USS Jason Dunham, USS Porter, USS Shoup, and USS Stockdale.
USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) honors U.S. Marine Corps Private First Class Oscar P. Austin. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravely attempting a rescue of an unconscious Marine comrade from enemy fire during a battle in Vietnam on Feb. 23, 1969. Even after absorbing a grenade blast, Austin continued trying to protect and recover his fellow Marine from an open position. He ultimately suffered a fatal wound at the hands of a North Vietnamese soldier.
USS Cole (DDG 67) honors U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Darrell Samuel Cole. On Feb. 19, 1945, while engaged in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault on Iwo Jima, Cole advanced, attacked, and withdrew against enemy pillboxes (small concrete forts) that had his squad pinned down. Though he wrought total destruction of the Japanese strong point, he was killed by a grenade while withdrawing for the third time. His actions on the day allowed his squad to storm the remaining fortifications and seize the mission objective.
USS Jason Dunham (DDG109) honors U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Jason L. Dunham. He led his team of Marines in assisting their ambushed Battalion Commander’s convoy on Apr. 14, 2004. As Dunham and one of his fire teams attempted to stop and search a group of suspect vehicles, an insurgent leapt out and began attacking him. The insurgent released a grenade and Dunham immediately covered it with his helmet and body while warning his fellow Marines. At least two fellow Marines were saved by his actions but Dunham was mortally wounded by the impact.
USS Porter (DG 78) honors U.S. Marine Corps Colonel David Dixon Porter. On Nov. 17, 1901, as a captain, he led a daring surprise attack at the junction of the Cadacan and Sohoton Rivers, Samar, during the Philippine-American War. His troops killed 30 enemy fighters, captured and destroyed powder magazines, guns, rice, food, cuartels (military quarters) and destroyed previous impenetrable positions.
USS Shoup (DDG 86) honors U.S. Marine Corps Colonel David Monroe Shoup He served as the commanding officer of all Marine Corps troops in action at Bentio Island, Tarawa Atoll, and Gilbert Islands during Nov. 20-22, 1943. Though seriously wounded early on in battle, his heroism inspired his troops to rally and produce smashing attacks against the Japanese. He was largely responsible for the final decisive defeat of the enemy.
USS Stockdale (DDG 106) honors U.S Navy Rear Admiral James B. Stockdale. He was captured as a commander during the Vietnam War and held more than seven years as at Hoa Lo Prison as a Prisoner of War (POW). As the senior naval officer imprisoned, Stockdale led the POWs to resist interrogation and refuse participation in propaganda exploitation. He even inflicted a near-fatal self-injury to show his captors he would rather die than cooperate. This action convinced the captors of his indomitable spirit and prompted them to end their use of excessive harassment and torture of all POWs.
The history of our grateful nation may have been drastically different if not for the selfless and courageous acts of men like these.
This series returns in a few weeks as the Surface Navy recognizes more Medal of Honor namesakes. Until then please visit our blog weekly to enjoy other great topics surrounding our U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces.
Guest Blog By MIDN 2/C Alex Ashley
U.S. Naval Academy
At the conclusion of my sophomore year, I left the United States Naval Academy (USNA) to embark on another summer of training. I had already experienced a training session the previous summer on board a U.S. Navy ship and was ready to see what new things this summer had in store.
Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) is a program that familiarizes USNA midshipmen about the different service communities the Navy offers prior to commissioning. It allows midshipmen, like myself, to learn and subsequently make an educated decision when deciding which community we want to serve in. This was one of the next summer training experiences I was to embark upon before I began my junior year at USNA.
There is a common perception among midshipmen that the surface warfare week of PROTRAMID is redundant because of the surface cruise that is required for most midshipmen during their pervious summer of training. Coming into a week of surface warfare (officer), or SWO-oriented training, I too thought I’d seen everything it could offer during my cruise last year. However, I can confidently say that by the end of this year’s SWO week my opinion had changed greatly.
The first thing that helped to change my mind was hearing Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, talk about his views and goals for PROTRAMID and his experiences as a SWO during his 34-year career. Of particular interest to me, was his anecdote of leading a major humanitarian aid effort in Africa.
He described pulling into a port and seeing the people in need directly benefit from the ship’s coordination efforts and the profound gratitude that was expressed toward him and his Sailors. His story had a way of reminding me that the Navy prides itself on being there when emergencies occur or when people are in need and that the surface Navy is a large contributor to make things better in the world.
It was at that point that I realized how much opportunity a SWO has to make the world a better place through missions like counter-piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and ensuring freedom of the seas in the uncertain times in which we live.
While Vice Adm. Rowden’s experiences made me look at surface warfare missions with much admiration , I still had lingering anxiety that surface week would be a redundant experience considering last summer’s much longer surface cruise. However, I was impressed by how much this year’s training would build upon last year.
Rather than repeating last summer’s grey-hull orientation, we were introduced to platforms and missions that don’t usually come to mind when you think about surface warfare. We saw Riverine squadrons and amphibious landings and weapons demonstrations, we rode amphibious craft to ships, and we witnessed other aspects of surface warfare that midshipmen might’ve not considered prior to their service selections..
Despite the range and rewarding nature of surface warfare missions, the SWOs we encountered said it was not the execution of these missions that was their favorite part of their jobs. Instead, they said it was their shipmates. The opportunity for person-to-person leadership on a daily basis was cited as a major contributor to job satisfaction at every level. To me, this was indicative of an encouraging, people-first culture in the surface community.
My mindset coming out of surface warfare week is not the same one I had going into summer training. It began with the idea that I had already seen everything and there were no questions left to ask. I instead left feeling more educated and confident to make my service selection when it comes time to next year.