LHA-1 Tarawa class
The primary war-fighting mission of the LHA-1 Tarawa class is to land and sustain United States Marines on any shore during hostilities. The ships serve as the centerpiece of a multi-ship Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG). Some 3,000 Sailors and Marines contribute to a forward-deployed ARG composed of approximately 5,000 personnel. Nearly three football fields in length and 20 stories high, the ship's two-acre flight deck, 18,519 square-foot hangar deck, and 250-foot well deck enable an embarked landing force to accomplish its mission around the globe.
The ships are designed to maintain what the Marine Corps calls "tactical integrity" - getting a balanced force to the same place at the same time. One LHA can carry a complete Marine battalion, along with the supplies and equipment needed in an assault, and land them ashore by either helicopter or amphibious craft. This two pronged capability, with emphasis on airborne landing of troops and equipment, enables the Navy and Marine Corps to fulfill their present-day mission. Whether the landing force is involved in an armed conflict, acting as a deterrent force in an unfavorable political situation or serving in a humanitarian mission, the class offers tactical versatility.
The Tarawa class is designed to operate independently or as a unit of a force, as a flagship or individual ship unit in both air and/or surface assaults, these ships are key elements of the amphibious assault forces for the Navy. They incorporate the best design features and capabilities of several amphibious assault ships currently in service: the Amphibious Assault Ship (LPH), Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD), Amphibious Cargo Ship (LKA), and Dock Landing Ship (LSD).
These ships have the general profile of an aircraft carrier, with superstructure to starboard, flight deck with nine landing spots, helicopter elevators to port (20-ton, folding) and aft (40-ton). They carry approximately 1,200 tons JP-5 fuel for helicopters. They can support a 35-aircraft complement including AV-8B fighter/attack V/STOL Harrier jets, AH-1 helicopter gunships, CH-53E Super Sea Stallion "heavy lift" and CH-46D/E Sea Knight helicopters. The LHA's full length flight deck can handle ten helicopters simultaneously, as well as the AV-8 HARRIER jump-jet aircraft and OV-10 BRONCO fixed-wing turboprop reconnaissance aircraft [which is no longer in service]. LHA-1 carried 20 AV-8B Harrier V/STOL attack fighters during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
There is also a large well deck in the stem of the ship for a number of amphibious assault craft, both displacement hull and air cushion. The well deck accomodates up to four LCU 1610 or one LCAC or 7 LCM(8) or 17 LCM(6) landing craft. Two LCM(6) and two LCP are stowed on a platform abaft the island. As an amphibious assault launching platform, they employ a variety of surface assault craft including the Navy's newest 40+ knot LCAC, 135-foot Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and other amphibious assault vehicles. Although the LHA usually doesn't carry Landing Craft, Air Cushioned (LCAC) boats onboard, they frequently operate with them and control them.
The ships have an extensive mechanical system for vertical and horizontal movement of containerized and palletized supplies from deep cargo holds to assault craft or helicopters. A system of five centerline elevators, conveyor lines and a monorail system move cargo and supplies. Two large elevators, one aft and one portside, move aircraft and equipment from the hangar deck to the flight deck. Wheeled vehicles, trucks, jeeps and tanks can be driven or pulled from any deck level storage position via inclined ramps to either awaiting craft in the well deck or helicopters on the flight deck. They function as an assault provisions carrier able to sustain embarked forces with fuel, ammunition and other supplies.
A capital ship, the Tarawa class can simultaneously fulfill a variety of war-fighting requirements: including flagship for embarked amphibious squadron and flag or general officer staff. The ships have an extensive command, communication and control suite, and their command and control (C4I) systems include the Navy's most sophisticated SHF and EHF satellite communications capability. These electronic systems give the amphibious task force commander nearly unlimited versatility in directing the assault mission. The heart of the LHA's electronic system is a tactical amphibious warfare computer which not only keeps track of the landing force's positions after leaving the ship, but tracks enemy targets ashore. With current information on troop positions in relation to enemy targets, the tactical data system can also direct the targeting of the guns and missiles from the ship as well as the support ships. Additionally, the system maintains air and surface traffic control during the landing not only for her own helicopters and assault craft, but for the combat air control and task force support ships as well. Communications systems include SRR-1, WSC-3 UHF, WSC-6 SHF, and USC-38 SHF SATCOM receivers, and SMQ-11 weather satellite receiver.
All troops have bunks, and the ships are completely air-conditioned. Very complete hospital and mortuary facilities are fitted, equivalent to the nation's finest local hospitals with 17 ICU beds, 4 operating rooms, 300 beds, a 1,000-unit blood bank, full dental facilities, and orthopedics, trauma, general surgery, and x-ray capabilities;
Two-marine boilers provide steam to the turbines which drive the twin screw ship, providing 70,000 total shaft horsepower. The boilers are the largest ever installed in U.S. Navy ships; the propulsion plant is highly automated. The ships have a range of 10,000 miles at a speed of 20 knots.
BELLEAU WOOD participated in her first full-scale operation in 1979 off the coast of Hawaii. BELLEAU WOOD's third successful SEVENTH Fleet deployment ran from January to July 1984. The ship then completed an 11-month complex overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. BELLEAU WOOD entered her second complex overhaul in Long Beach California in 1990. Major work included an upgrade to CIWS and installation of the Rolling Airframe Missile System.
In October 2000 Belleau Wood (LHA 3) completed the Navy's largest ever crew exchange and hull swap in Sasebo, Japan. The deployment began for the San Diego crew aboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) in early June 2000. Port visits to Hawaii, Guam and Hong Kong preceded their arrival in Sasebo. After arriving in Japan, the two large-deck amphibious ships moored in India Basin at Fleet Activities Sasebo and began an aggressive training schedule allowing both crews to learn their new ship. Everything from basic ship familiarization and fire fighting procedures, to engineering plant layout and hull-specific differences had to be learned before the 27 July 2000 exchange of command. The San Diego crew delivered (USS Essex) the Third Fleet Battle "E" winning Big Deck Amphib to the FDNF (Forward Deployed Naval Forces), and returned to San Diego as the new owners of USS Belleau Wood. The hull swap benefited the Navy, saving money on personnel transfer costs. Nearly 2000 crewmembers (1000 from each ship) and their families were able to remain stable in both Sasebo and San Diego.
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