LH(X) Amphibious Assault Ship

The Tarawa class ships (LHAs) are vintage amphibious assault ships. Between 2011 and 2015 one ship annually will reach the end of their service life. Maintaining twelve "big deck" amphibious ships is necessary to fulfill the 12 ARG QDR requirement and to satisfy Marine Corps lift requirements. The Marines conducted a Development of Options Study to determine the best course to meet naval requirements. The options were: an LHA Service Life Extension Program (SLEP); an LHD Mod; or a new construction LH(X) variant. The study was completed in June 1999.

LH(X) - 1999-2002

Ship concepts, identified in PE 0603563N (Ship Concept Advanced Design) are transitioned to and further developed by this project after an approved Milestone 0 (MS 0) decision. This project performs the Ship Feasibility Studies required after MS 0 to address a specific Mission Needs Statement (MNS) and supports the Analysis of Alternatives(AOA) for new ships in the Navy Shipbuilding Plan. FY1999 work included $1.971,000 for Feasibility Studies and AOA support for a new class of helicopter carrier, LH(X) following a Milestone 0 decision in 1999. FY 2000 Changes consist of: +12.000M Realignment for JCC(X), -10.300M LH(X) transfer; -15.428M Other Programmatic Adjustments; and -.022M Additional Inflation Reduction.

The 2002 LHA-Replacement concept was a significant change from the program as conceived and supported by a Center for Naval Analyses analysis of alternatives (AoA) conducted in 2000. That study preferred a new hull design of about 40,000 tons to 45,000 tons displacement. The LHA-Replacement was envisioned and supported by the Marine Corps as not another LHD, but rather a completely new class of ship that would remain in service through 2050.

Beginning in FY01, the Navy conducted an analysis of alternatives study to determine the preferred choice between a LHA(R) modification to the LHD class design or a brand new LH(X) hull configuration. The Navy intended to determine the appropriate design for the LHA(R), including a modified-repeat of the LHD design, a modified LHD, and a completely new design. LHA(R) may also benefit by incorporating C4I technologies from the CVNX program.

In March 2001, the Navy and Joint Staff approved and validated the LHA(R) Mission Need Statement. The office of the Under-secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics authorized Milestone A Acquisition status for the program, as well as its entry into the Concept Exploration phase in July 2001.

The Marine Corps expected that their future requirements would include a 16.5% increase in ground equipment weight and a 40% increase in topside weight. These calculations did not include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which was planned to be introduced to the fleet in 2008. The future ACE may include as many as 12 MV-22's, 8 UH-1Y, 4 CH-53E and 10 F-35 JSF's, which would weigh approx 314,000 lbs more than 6 AV-8s. Also expected were 4 CH-60's as part of the Navy detachment. LHD's were designed for 2.5% growth in weight. The CNO's policy (1986) was for 5% growth factor in ship construction programs.

LHX amphibious assault ships were a conceptual next-generation assault ship intended to replace the LHA Tarawas. The Navy's initial plan was to conduct a service life extension program (SLEP) overhaul on the LHA Tarawa class amphibious assault ships when they reached the 35 year point in their operating life. The SLEP would provide another 15 years of life at a cost of nearly $1.0 billion per SLEP. The SLEP would extend the machinery operating life and provide communications upgrades. However, stability would remain a main concern and the LHA had limited capabilities to support 21st century littoral warfare systems such as the landing craft air cushion (LCAC) and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

In the event the Tarawa SLEP was not funded, and if possible further units of the LHA-1 Wasp class were not authorized, the first of the LHX class was planned for authorization 2005 with commissioning in 2011, with at least five units to be constructed. The design would have likely been based on the Wasp design, apart from the use of a dry deck for hovercraft instead of a docking well.

This LHX schedule was viewed with great concern. First, it was unrealistic to believe that a ship being built to last until the 2050 timeframe would have little to no evolutionary design built into it. Second, funding for the replacement ships was an issue when stacked closely together as they are. This was not regarded as an affordable acquisition strategy.

As an all-new design, the LHX could be designed to be more capable and more cost-effective than a modified LHD-1. The opportunity for a "clean sheet of paper" design could take maximum advantage of new technologies, permitting large reductions in crew size that could reduce the life-cycle cost of the ship. Developing the LHX could cost more than a billion dollars and require several years of design and engineering work. If LHD-8 replaced the first LHA, then the $1 billion in development costs would be amortized over an LHX production run of as few as four ships, increasing the LHX's total unit acquisition cost by at least $250 million per ship. Since these ships would be the first built to the new design, they would have learning curve risks that could elevate their price further relative to the LHD-8, which was further along the learning curve.

LH(X) - 2007-2024

The Navy's 313-ship requirement in its 2009 shipbuilding plan calls for a force of 31 amphibious ships organized around nine expeditionary strike groups. Each group would include one large amphibious assault ship (LHA or LHD class), one amphibious transport dock (LPD), and one dock landing ship (LSD). A footnote in the 2009 plan states, however, that because the Marine Corps requires 33 amphibious ships to transport the assault echelons of two Marine expeditionary brigades, the Navy is reviewing options to increase the number of amphibious ships to 33. To meet the Marine Corps's requirement for 33 ships over the 30-year period, the 2009 plan would not substantially increase the purchase of amphibious ships compared with the 2007 and 2008 plans, but it would increase the service life of two LPD-4s, two LHAs, and all 12 LSDs.

The LH(X) Program is intended to enhance amphibious capability and bring back what was learned with LHA 6 design. It would meet increased demand of MAGTF growth and demand created by JSF-MV22-CH53K, also increasing size and weight considerations.The goal for LH(X) will be designed to reincorporate the Well Deck, and retain as much of the aviation enhancements achieved from LHA(R) as possible (expanded hangar/high bay, space arrangements). The Reduced Island Concept [RIC] is part of "spiral design" concept. This eliminates the need for flight restrictions on spot 5 & 6 increasing clearance between aircraft and the ship's island; MV-22 currently cannot land on spots 5 & 6 on the LHD and LHA-6. It increases deck capacity 20% over LHA-6 (9 more H-46 equivalent spots) which equates to an increase to the standard MEU ACE of 4 more MV-22B or 3 more F-35B or 3 more CH-53K.

The 2009 plan calls for the purchase of an LHA-6 in 2017, in addition to the one being bought in 2007 and versions that would be purchased in 2010 and 2013 for use in the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future) squadron. The Navy would also buy seven replacements for the Wasp class LHDs in the 2020s and 2030s-designated the LH(X). As of 2008 LH(X) was slated for an FY24 procurement with FY29 Initial Operational Capability. This does not seem quite right, since that would seem to imply a seven year gap betwen the authorization of the fourth unit of the LHA-6 class and the first unit of the new LH(X) class, whereas historically large deck amphibians have been authorized at intervals of three or four years.

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