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Amphibious Assault Ships

An amphibious operation is an over water assault by armed forces to effect a landing on a hostile shore. It includes the operations of naval, air, and ground components in over water movement, support, and assault, together with the logistics required to attain the objective. In today's low-intensity conflict environment, the ability to project power from the sea has taken on new dimensions. This had led to the birth of new technologies designed to rapidly place forces on a beach and defeat an enemy through the doctrines of combined arms and vertical envelopment. These tactical doctrines, with more than a dozen different types of maneuvers from the sea, comprise today's am-phibious operations. The list of capabilities an amphibious platform provides ranges from evacuating citizens from a hostile shore, known as non-combatant evacuation operations, to the tactical recovery of an air pilot, to all points in between.

Seventy percent of the world's population lives on or within 300 miles of a coast. The littorals, as this is called, have become an important part of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps considerations. Warships, landing craft, helicopters, and weapons systems have been specifically designed to land over 900 marines that comprise the battalion landing team.

There are a large number of classes of amphibious ships around the world with each having its basic specialized mission. For example, the U.S. Navy has (LCC) Amphibious Command Ship, (LHA) Amphibious Assault Ship (General Purpose), (LHD) Amphibious Assault Ship (Multi-Purpose), (LKA) Amphibious Cargo Ship, (LPA) Amphibious Transport, (LPD) Amphibious Transport Dock, (LPH) Amphibious Assault Ship (Helicopter), (LSD) Dock Landing Ship, and (LST) Tank Landing Ship. Other amphibious ships are used commercially in missions such as Roll On/Roll Off (RO/RO) vehicle carriers, container carriers, and break bulk in open top containers. The primary drawback of each of the above mentioned vessels is that each class of vessels is optimized for only a single specific mission. Many classes of vessels would be required to fulfill all the possible specific needs. The purchase cost for each vessel can be prohibitive as well as the maintenance and ongoing costs associated with each vessel.

Other nations are also investing scarce defense resources on other less ambitious amphibious capabilities, notably the Landing Platform Dock, typically with a displacement between 10,000 tons and 20,000 tones. The Royal Dutch Navy's 12,800-ton HNLMS Rotterdam LPD can carry 600 marines and accommodate up to 800 marines for a short period of time. Entering service in 1998, the Rotterdam is part of the United Kingdom/Netherlands Amphibious Force, a defense concept that might soon include Spain. The Italians embarked their famed San Marco Battalion on-board one of two LPDs - the ITS San Marco or the San Giorgio. The French added the FS Foudre, which is an LPD that displaces 11,900 tons and is part of the armada that was assembled during the first Persian Gulf war.

  1. The American (LHA) Amphibious Assault Ship (General Purpose) - five built, four in service, (LHD) Amphibious Assault Ship (Multi-Purpose) - eight built and in service - are the largest and most capable units of this type, as well as being by far the most numerous. The USS Bataan (LHD-5) is one of the newer 40,500-ton, large-deck, amphibious warships commissioned in 1997. Though apparently similar to the LHD and LHA designs, for the first time on a contemporary US amphibious vessel, the forthcoming LHA-6 America lacks a stern well deck and the ability to debark landing craft and heavy vehicles. It does feature a significantly greater aviation capabilities (two more F-35Bs or three MV-22s, 40% more hangar surface, double the JP5 fuel capacity).
  2. The United Kingdom is second only to the United States in amphibious capability. The Royal Navy commissioned the H.M.S. Ocean in 1998, which is a 21,500-ton variant of the Iwo Jima-Class landing platform, helicopter (LPH). By 2004, Ocean was joined by two smaller landing platform, dock (LPD)-class ships-the HMS Albion and the Bulwark - to make up what is called an amphibious ready force, the British equivalent of the US Navy and Marine Corps amphibious ready group.
  3. The Korean LPX Program envisions vessels referred to as LPHs or LHs by the ROK Navy, while given the presence of a well dock theyshould rather be described as LHDs or LPDs by international standards. The first ship, named DOKDO, was launched in June 2005 and commissioned in July 2007, with three more to follow in the 2010-2016 timeframe. Japan's largest aviation ship, the 20,000 ton DDH-161 Hyuga / 16DDH , does not have amphibious capabilities, and the largest Japanese amphibious ship, the 13,000 ton Osumi lacks internal hangar accomodation for its four helicopters.
  4. The future flagship of the Italian Navy, CAVOUR, was initially conceived as a LHD, then the design was changed to a pure 27,500 tons STOVL carrier - though fitted with accommodations for 325 marines.
  5. The Spanish Navy with its Strategic Projection Ship (BPE,Buque de Proyeccion Estrategica), recently named JUAN CARLOS I is quite uniquefor a number of reasons. First of all, with its 24,700 tons full load displacement,this is the largest warship ever built in Spain
  6. The Royal Australian Navy is to significantly expand its amphibious warfare and sealift capability. The program calls for two LHDs, HMAS CAMBERRA and HMAS ADELAIDE, to be commissioned respectively in 2014 and 2015 [initially planned for 2012 and 2014].
  7. The French Navy's amphibious capabilities were first expanded during the 1990s with the commissioning of two FOUDRE-class LPDs, and then in 2006-2007 with the arrival of the two MISTRAL-class LHDs or BPCs in the French acronym (Batiments de Projection et Commandement, Projection and Command Vessels).
  8. Russia announced plans in 2009 to buy one Mistral-class LHD from France, and to build another three vessels to this design in Russian yards.
During amphibious raids and coup-de-mains, requiring limited or no logistic support thanks to their very short duration, helicopters are usually the most important craft. The slow landing craft and the beaching operations have been almost entirely replaced by over-the-horizon operations, exploiting vertical lift and/or fast craft (i.e. air-cushion vehiclesand fast-running assault boats). While there still are many traditional landing ships being built and operated, most contemporary amphibious assault vessels are conceived with built-in aviation facilities and with a stern welldock for operating fast ship-to-shore connectors, much faster than their predecessors.

Major amphibious vessels can act as command vessels, with facilities for an embarked staff and large communication suites as well as command-and-control systems. The living spaces for the Embarked Military Force (EMF) require different arrangements than on other vessels, which includes not only accommodations (bunks, lavatories, food processing, mess and recreationalspaces) but also other infrastructure and facilities. Thanks to the presence of large spaces onboard, together with the availability of small watercraft, helicopters,accommodations, etc, their role was expanded also to new tasks as different as support of patrol craft during security operations to distant areas, transport, humanitarian and disaster-relief operations.

The humanitarian / disaster-relief role is of particular importance. Amphibious vessels offer an unique and often critical capability, able to transfer large amounts of supplies and/or engineering and rescue equipment even without the availability of harbor facilities. This has made these ships attractive to Navies that would otherwise never contemplate the possibility of planning and executing amphibious assault operations in the traditional meaning of the term.

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