LPD 4 Austin class
The LPD 4 Austin class, a lengthened version of the preceding Raleigh class combines the capabilities of of three different classes of ships; the landing ship (LSD), the tank landing ship (LST), and the attack cargo ship (LKA). The Amphibious Transport, Dock, is used to transport and land Marines, their equipment and supplies by embarked landing craft or amphibious vehicles augmented by helicopters in amphibious assault.
A secondary mission is evacuation and civilian disaster relief. Hundreds of tons of relief materials can be carried aboard and can be delivered to disaster victims within minutes of the ship's arrival on the scene. The ships' medical and dental facilities can provide limited hospitalization care, as well as out-patient treatment for hundreds of sick or injured.
The ships have a well deck that carries amphibious landing vehicles. The well decks are upper and lower vehicle storage areas, which hold most of the embarked troops' heavy combat equipment, such as tanks, tracked amphibious landing vehicles (AAV), jeeps and trucks. The well deck is capable of holding one (1) LCU or one (1) LCAC and two (2) LARC-5. A mix of LCM-8 and LCM-6 is possible up to four (4) LCM-8 or two (2) LCM-8 and three (3) LCM-6. Other combinations include one utility landing craft (LCU) boat plus three LCM(6), nine LCM(6), four LCM(8), or four mechanized landing craft (LCU), or 28 LVT in the well deck. To facilitate the docking and loading of various sized landing craft, the ship can ballast down in the water, thereby flooding the well deck with enough water to enable the landing craft to enter the well deck through the stern gate door. Once docked inside the well deck, troops, supplies and combat equipment can be loaded into or off of the amphibious boats and vehicles while simultaneously transporting troops and equipment via helicopter from the flight deck.
The LPD 4 Austin class has a helicopter platform built over a well deck in the rear of the vessel. This large flight deck for helicopter operations provides the tactical advantage of being able to lift troops, their combat equipment and supplies onto the same ship. Therefore, the ship contributes to all phases of the amphibious assault. Up to six CH-46 helicopters amphibious transport helicopters, or three CH-53 helicopters, can be carried for brief periods on the flight deck, but the small, telescoping hangar can accommodate only one utility helicopter [there is no hangar in LPD 4]. The ships can simultaneously land or launch two (2) H-1, H-2 , H-3, CH-46, CH-53 type aircraft from the landing spots on the flight deck. The ship is certified for expanded flight deck operations and four (4) H-1 or two (2) H-1 and one (1) H-46 type aircraft can be on deck and turning at the same time. All helicopters will be launched or landed one at a time. One AV-8 can be landed under VFR conditions during daylight hours only.
Although not as robust as amphibious assault ships or aircraft carriers, LPDs can fuel aircraft and move cargo just as fast as their larger deck counterparts. They are also ordinance capable with magazines located directly under the tower for quick buildup and hanging. LPDs are fully night-vision goggle compatible and can conduct flight operations in any ambient light conditions. In addition, they have a first-class Aircraft Direction Center (ADC) that can provide emergency low-visibility approaches and tactical aid to navigation system approaches, as well as fill the ADC role for the entire ARG.
The real capability multiplier for the LPD is the ability to conduct expanded spot operations both day and night. Normally configured for two spots, the flight deck has certifications to use spots on the port and starboard sides, which adds four more spots. For AH-1 Sea Cobras and UH-1 "Hueys," the LPD can work four turning aircraft at the same time. For H-46s and H-53 Sea Stallions, the ship can have only two turning but can also support folded aircraft on the opposing expanded spots. What this equates to is that LPDs can easily accommodate a detachment of up to four H-46s or H-53s, simultaneously launching two at a time with the other two folded. For obvious reasons, helicopter detachments are becoming the norm aboard LPDs.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Duluth's flight deck was utilized from the beginning of the war. With a relatively shallow draft of 22 feet, she was able to steam within sight of the Al Faw peninsula to act as a refueling platform for the numerous aircraft transiting from the big decks located in deeper waters to the southeast. Duluth also provided the deck for two combat search and rescue HH-60H Seahawks participating in the capture of two Iraqi oil platforms.
Duluth's ability to conduct simultaneous well-deck and flight deck operations made her the ideal platform for an enemy prisoner of war (EPW) transfer. EPWs were extracted from captured oil platforms via landing craft and ferried to an EPW camp in Kuwait by helicopter. These actions were bracketed by a very successful Marine Expeditionary Unit offload and onload. During the offload, all spots saw a lot of action as a mix of every rotary-wing asset in the Marine Corps inventory visited Duluth's flight deck.
The ships carry over 800 combat troops, all in addition to her crew of 400 officers and enlisted men. They can also cary 2,000 tons of supplies and equipment. The ships have one 30-ton and six 4-ton cranes, one 8.15-ton elevator, two forklifts. All have 224,500 gallons aviation fuel, and 119,000 gallons of vehicle fuel.
Propulsion consists of two Foster Wheeler 600 psi boilers, powering two De Laval GT turbines, driving two propellers, providing 12,000 Shaft Horsepower (SHP) each. The four electrical power generators, which are powered by the steam from the boilers, can generate enough electricity to power a city of 26,000 people. The ships have laundry and pressing services, barbershop, ship's store, disbursing, administration, post office, library, welding shop, machinery repair shop, valve shop, diesel engine repair shop, AC&R shop, two evaporators capable of 25,000 gallons of water a day, each. The ships have their own doctor and dentists, with a twelve bed medical ward, bacteriological laboratory, X-ray facilities, sterilizing room and dental operatory. Storerooms and refrigerated spaces, can subsist 1,500 crew members for 60 days, or 500 men for 90 days.
LPD 7 to LPD 13 are fitted for flagship duty and have one additional superstructure deck. Command facilities include a CIC, Troop Operations and Logistics Center, and Helicopter Coordination Center; LPD 7-13 also have a Flag Plot, Ship Signals Exploitation Space, and Supporting Arms Coordination Center. These ships are configured as a flagship and provide extensive command, control and communications facilities to support an Amphibious Task Force Commander and Landing Force Commander. In an amphibious assault, the ship would normally function as the Primary Control Ship that would be responsible for coordinating boat waves and vectoring landing craft to the beach. USS SHREVEPORT departed Norfolk VA on June 8, 1998 as for Exercise MARCOT/Unified Spirit. SHREVEPORT, acting as Advanced Force Command ship, along with several other ships, was a test platform for the new Joint Countermine Application (JCA). JCA is a JMCIS application being developed to support all aspects of countermine warfare. The JCA's functions include collection and distribution of the mine countermeasure picture, allowing units to receive and analyze data.
All lost their one Mk 56 and two Mk 63 gun fire-control directors in the late 1980s, leaving the 76.2-mm guns locally controlled. Two twin 76.2-mm DP removed 1977-78 (port fwd., stbd aft), and the remainder in 1992-93. Pacific Fleet ships lagged the Atlantic Fleet units in the installation of the Mk 15 CIWS. In LPD 4-6, 14 and 15, the SPS-40 antenna is set on a platform well below the apex of the tripod mast, while on the others it is on the masthead platform. LPD 12 in the Atlantic and LPD 9 in the Pacific were equipped to accommodate and control the Pioneer reconnaissance drone in 1992-1993; each ship carries five to eight of the drones and is equipped fore and aft with radome-covered tracking and control radars for the Pioneers. Subsequently, the drone equipment has been removed from LPD 9 and added to LPD 4.
Although their capabilities are less than those of the new LSD-41 class, the ships of the Austin class, built between 1965-1971, were considered sufficiently modern to have their service lives extended, and the Navy had planned to inaugurate an overhaul program for all 11 of them commencing in early 1988. The programmed SLEP (Service Life Extension Program) modernization would have extended their service lives by 10-15 years, to 2005. However, Congress did not authorize funding for the program in 1987. The ships are nearing the end of their service life. For example, the oldest ship, the USS Austin (LPD 4) turned 35 in February 2000. Moreover, these ships are especially vulnerable to cruise missile attack as their defensive capabilities consist of only two Phalanx weapon systems. The Navy plans to replace its current LPD fleet, as well as other old amphibious ships, with its newest class of amphibious ship -- the LPD 17. Although the predecessor LPD-1 Raleigh class was retired after three decades of service, the ships of this class will remain in service for nearly four decades until they are replaced by the LPD-17 class. This replacement was initially slated to begin in 2003, but in fact delivery of the lead unit of this new class did not take place until January of 2006, three years behind schedule. The Austin-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Duluth (LPD 6) was decommissioned at Naval Station San Diego 28 September 2005 after serving the Navy and the nation for 39 years.
The amphibious transport dock USS Trenton (LPD 14) returned Naval Station Norfolk 21 September 2006 after a successful deployment. Trenton responded to Joint Task Force Lebanon while deployed, assisting over 3500 American citizens evacuate the war torn country. This was the last deployment for Trenton, after 35 years of active service, before she decommissioned and transferred to the Indian Navy in January 2007.
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