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LX:  Key To The Future For The Amphibious Navy
CSC 1992
SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy
Title:  LX:  Key To The Future For The Amphibious Navy
Author:  Major John R. Webb, United States Marine Corps
Thesis:  Although not the only program involved in the Navy's fleet moderni-
zation effort, LX carries the most promise in leading the amphibious fleet
out of block obsolescence as it has made the greatest advances in the
tortuous ship procurement process.
Background:  The United States Navy has virtually ignored the condition
of its amphibious fleet for many years, focusing modernization efforts on
building surface combatants, submarines, and aircraft to wage naval war
with the Soviet Union.  Fortunately, a confrontation with the Warsaw Pact
never occurred. But maintaining this anti-Soviet focus for nearly 50 years
has repeatedly drawn Navy planning and acquisition programs away from
efforts to improve the "gators", leading today's amphibious fleet down the
road to block obsolescence.  Ironically, the shaping of the "New World
Order" will cause an increase in the use of amphibious forces as they
"show the flag" or respond to crises in Third World nations. Fortunately,
the Navy has finally realized the importance of this vital capability and has
initiated development of LX, a new class of amphibious ship that will be
capable of performing the missions of the many classes of retiring vessels.
Although presently in the design stages, LX has already been the victim
of lower military budgets, which will certainly result in reduced capabilities
for the ship.  Still, LX represents a huge step in carrying the amphibious
Navy into the 21st century.
Recommendation:  Now is the time for the Navy and Marine Corps to
increase involvement in the LX program, ensuring that the vessel is
indeed capable of supporting future MAGTF operations.
Although not the only program involved in the Navy's fleet modernization
effort, LX carries the most promise in leading the amphibious fleet out of
block obsolescence as it has made the greatest advances in the tortuous
ship procurement process.
I.	Aspects of Amphibious Operations
	A.	For ward Presence Strategy
	B.	Block Obsolescence of Today's Fleet
	C.	Amphibious Operations versus MPF
	D.	Increase in Amphibious Force Usage
II.	Development of LX
	A.	New Ship versus SLEP
	B.	Fingerprint of Amphibious Lift
	C.	Amphibious Lift Considerations
		1.	MEU, MEB, and MEF
		2.	Multi-mission Roles
III.	LX Today
	A.	Design Characteristics
		1.	Capabilities
		2.	Deficiencies
     The history of warfare shows that the basic strategic asset of
    sea-based peoples is amphibious flexibility.  In tackling land-
    based opponents, they can produce a distraction to the enemy's
    power of concentration that is advantageously disproportionate
    to the scale of force they employ and the resources they possess.
                              		B. H. Liddell Hart
     In August of 1990, President George Bush announced four elements
as foundations for the national security strategy of the United States:
   1.	Strategic deterrence
   2.	Forward presence in key areas
   3.	World wide crisis response
   4.	Force reconstitution1
In projected support of this strategy, the Navy-Marine Corps team may be
called upon to perform missions ranging from humanitarian assistance to
counterinsurgency and crisis-response operations.  In these missions,
amphibious shipping will play an essential role in projecting sustainable
combat power ashore.  Unfortunately, amphibious operations have become
more and more difficult as the Navy has largely ignored the "gator" fleet,
concentrating instead on updating surface combatants, submarines, and
aircraft to wage naval war with the Soviet Union.  Slight improvements to the
amphibious fleet have reluctantly been made, but only when the Marine Corps
has pressed the issue.  The result is an amphibious fleet that is rapidly
reaching the end of its service life.  Continuing Department of Defense budget
cuts have only worsened the problem, prolonging an already sluggish effort
to revive the aging amphibious armada.  The scheduled retirement of 28
amphibious ships between the years 2002 and 2007 demonstrates the
seriousness of the problem. More dramatically, 20 LSTs, five LSDs, five LKAs,
six LPHs, and 11 LPDs will reach the end of their service lives within the next
20 years.(5:56)  With this decommissioning plan, the entire complement of six
ship classes will vanish. The result is a tailspin of ship retirements that is
leading the U.S. amphibious fleet down the road to block obsolescence.
   In the past, officials within the government have not viewed the
maintenance of a modern amphibious fleet as vital to national security. This
notion began in the late 1940s when senior military officials questioned if the
world would ever witness another amphibious operation as large as the World
War II landings.  In 1950, General Douglas MacArthur silenced these critics
when he orchestrated his brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon during the
Korean War, once again demonstrating the value of possessing the ability to
project combat power from the sea.  However Cold War events like the Cuban
Missile Crisis soon drew the attention of the Navy back to building large
combatant vessels to thwart the Warsaw Pact, allowing U. S. amphibious forces
to once again slip into the subordinate position they currently maintain.
   Today, the recent successes of programs like Maritime Prepositioning Force
(MPF) shipping only cloud the issue of maintaining modern combatant
amphibious forces. It is true that during the Gulf War, MPF shipping proved
the value of employing prepositioned armored vehicles, trucks, and other items
of heavy equipment as a strategic deployment option for combat.  The mobility
and timely response of these forces proved instrumental in the rapid build-up
of combat power ashore.  Although highly successful, it should be remembered
that the Gulf War MPF operations would not have been possible without a
benign port facility such as the one in Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia.  In addition to
a secure port, the Al Jubail area offered the air facilities and road network
required to facilitate the MPF off-load process.  But the luxury of such a
facility may not exist in our nation's next conflict.  If enemy defenses require
forcible entry from the sea, tanks, trucks, and supplies will have to be
delivered across the beach by amphibious ships and landing craft of the U. S.
   It is imperative, then, that the Navy continue to maintain a viable, combat-
ready amphibious fleet capable of transporting the supplies and vehicles
necessary to support a myriad of Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF)
operations. A recent Brookings Institute study supports this claim, verifying
that "amphibious forces were used in 33 percent of the incidents in which the
United States was involved between 1945 and 1975." (5:56)  This figure
increased to nearly 70 percent as recently as 1988.  Recent operations in
Beirut, Grenada, and Somalia all serve as vivid reminders that "since World War
II, U. S. forces have been called on more than 200 times to demonstrate national
resolve in response to crises. Most of those responses were naval, and most
naval responses were amphibious." (3:64) This increased use of amphibious
forces, coupled with the demise of the Cold War, seems to indicate that U. S.
maritime strategy is indeed shifting away from Soviet containment, focusing
instead on President Bush's stated policy of maintaining global stability
through forward deployment and force projection.
   Fortunately, the Navy recently acknowledged that aggressive efforts were
urgently needed if the amphibious fleet intended to keep pace with this new
strategy.  In 1990, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, headed by the
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, validated a Mission Need Statement
(MNS) for the LX, a ship design that would assume the roles of the 38 retiring
vessels of the Austin (LPD 4), Raleigh (LPD 1), Anchorage (LSD 36), and
Newport (LST 1179) classes.(6:69)  Although not the only program involved in
the Navy's fleet modernization effort, LX carries the most promise in leading
the amphibious fleet out of block obsolescence as it has made the greatest
advances in the tortuous ship procurement process.  In determining what form
LX would take, several areas were investigated by the Council.  It soon became
apparent that LX could evolve in one of three ways:
   1.	Additional models of ships currently in the Navy inventory
	could be constructed
   2.	A completely new vessel could be researched, designed,
	and built
   3.	Some form of Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) could
	modernize existing vessels
Each of these methods has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.  As an
illustration, it has been noted that "the SLEP option may be more of a 'Band-
Aid' than a real temporary solution. Ship survivability and maintainability
becomes subject to question as ships increase in age.  The amphibious
operation is the most complex in military art; the imperative in amphibious
warfare is the continual application of technology.  Older ships with older
equipment lack the capability for modern warfare.  The limited benefits
derived, versus the high costs of SLEP, have been the reason for not
conducting the SLEP of vessels in the past."(5:56)
   The next area investigated is known as the amphibious lift "fingerprint",
so-named because of the five categories that comprise the amphibious lift
goal.2  The current fingerprint for Navy planners requires that amphibious
shipping have the capability to lift the equipment and personnel of 2.5 Marine
Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs).  This represents a figure that has been in a
constant state of flux for some time.  As recently as 1975, the amphibious lift
goal was to maintain the ability to lift the assault echelons (AEs) of 1.33 Marine
Expeditionary Force (MEF) size units.  Following a reduction in 1979, the figure
was redesignated as one MEF (AE) plus one MEB in 1982.  Further budget cuts
saw the number reduced to one MEF (AE) plus one MEB (AE) in 1983, with the
current figure of 2.5 MEB assault echelons established in 1991. In a related
article, Major Thomas C. Linn captured the frustration that Navy planners must
have felt in grappling with this problem. He writes:
      The allocation of resources has not been sufficient to reverse the
      steady decline in amphibious lift capability that has occurred
      over the past 40 years.  In 1945, the Navy possessed 1,728
      amphibious ships, which constituted 40 percent of the fleet and
      enabled the U. S. to project 13 combat divisions. By 1979, this
      capability had diminished to its lowest level since the pre-Korean
      War period.  Comprising only 14 percent of the fleet, the 65
      amphibious ships in active service could lift the assault echelons
      of only 1.15 Marine Expeditionary Forces, or approximately 37,000
      Marines. (5:54)
For now, planners must work with the 2.5 MEB (AE) figure. (4) Unfortunately,
the amphibious fleet has historically fallen short in the lift fingerprint areas
of vehicle and cargo storage, regardless of lift goals established at the time.(1)
Although accommodating troops, landing craft, and helicopters has not usually
posed a problem, finding the deck space for vehicles and the storage space
necessary for transporting a MAGTF's cargo has been a nightmare for Combat
Cargo Officers for years. When asked if the amphibious fleet could claim today
that it could actually lift the 2.5 MEB (AE) requirement, a high-ranking Navy
official responded that it would take just about every vessel the Navy owns.3
That would mean no ships in a "down" status for scheduled or emergency
maintenance, no ships in any type of overhaul for system upgrading or
modification, and certainly no other vessels participating in operations in
another part of the world.  This lack of mobility suggested to the planners that
a new vessel be developed with more cargo and vehicle storage space than
current shipping possesses.
   Another area requiring attention was the issue of peacetime operational
tempo.  To support the President's position of forward presence, naval
operations were mandated in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, and in
the western Pacific Ocean operating areas.  With that requirement came all the
associated problems in supporting time on station, transit time from the United
States to the area of operation, scheduled and emergency maintenance
procedures, and so on.  Taking into account the average age of the current
amphibious fleet, the pendulum fell heavily in favor of developing a new ship
that would be capable of supporting the strenuous schedule posed by this
energetic forward presence strategy.  In the planner's view, the capability to
keep pace became a key factor as the United States continued to lose overseas
bases from which to launch military operations.  Today, the preponderance of
U. S. overseas bases are within the confines of NATO.  However, the
possibilities of conducting an operation in South America or in the Pacific
theater are growing daily.  Appropriately, the reliance on staging a military
operation from the sea will grow as well.  Planners agreed that the United
States must not attempt to rely on mechanically and technologically outdated
vessels in an impending era of accelerating operational tempos.
     Analyzing the question of updating the fleet would not have been
complete without also addressing what few improvements did occur within the
amphibious community in the era of the capital ship concept.4  At the top of
this list was the introduction of the Wasp-class LHD.  Incorporating the basic
design characteristics of the LHA, the LHD performs the mission of embarking
and landing elements of a Marine air-ground task force by helicopter and a
variety of surface means.  Although the LHD possesses basically the same
aviation capability as the Tarawa-class LHA, it can stow up to three air-
cushion landing craft (LCAC) in its well deck, compared to only one LCAC in the
LHA.  This represents a marked increase in the ability to initiate surface
assaults at great distances from the beach.  Alas, the future of the LHD fleet
is in question as funding for the fourth and fifth vessels of the class remains
tenuous.(4) Other LCAC carriers, such as the Raleigh-class LPD, have already
been retired from the active list.(2)  Appropriately, the planners deemed that
LX should have the capability to transport at least one LCAC, lending support
to the concept of conducting amphibious operations as a form of maneuver
warfare from the sea.
      The realities of a diminished global threat and competing politico-
economic interests have forced the American military to come to grips with a
reduced defense budget.  For the amphibious Navy, this will probably mean
that the days of the five-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) are rapidly
coming to an end.  Historically, previous ARGs have sailed with an LHD, LHA,
or LPH serving as the command vessel. Along with this "big deck" would be
various combinations of LPDs, LSDs1 LSTs, or LKAs.  However, the inevitable
down-sizing of the fleet will mean that five-ship ARGs will most likely be two-
ship or three-ship ARGs in the future.(4)  Consequently, planners determined
that LX should be a multi-role ship, allowing it to serve as a mobile sea base
for numerous missions; a crucial capability in dealing with regional
contingencies that develop as the "New World Order" continues to take form.
   Other factors were considered during this process, including the
composition of future MAGTFs, the mix of future ship-to-shore mobility systems
(landing craft, helicopters, and assault vehicles), and perhaps most
importantly, expected scenarios for future amphibious operations.  As a result,
the study concluded that the LX should possess the following minimum
   1.	Living area for 700 troops
   2.	25,000 square feet of vehicle storage space
   3.	25,000 cubic feet of cargo storage space
   4.	Four helicopter landing spots
   5.	One LCAC spot(1)
Working within these guidelines, the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)
proposed 13 variants of the LX for study.  Two of these variants were
upgrades of the relatively new LSD 41-class vessel, while the remaining 11
were completely new ships.  The list was impressive as vessels varied from just
over 600 feet in length to nearly 900 feet, displacing from 17,000 tons to over
45,000 tons.(1)  Not surprisingly, the two proposals for modernizing the LSD
41-class vessels received little consideration as the benefits for building a new
ship were readily apparent.  The question became one of determining which of
the new ships would best meet the needs of supporting U.S. amphibious forces
in the future.
   After much deliberation, naval planners recently narrowed the list to two
choices.  The first option is to develop the LX 901, a 684 foot vessel that
displaces 23 tons.  The remaining option is to build the LX 88H, a much larger
vessel at 765 feet in length, displacing 33 tons.(4)  Both ships meet or exceed
all the minimum capabilities determined by the lift study, while providing
attractive benefit versus cost ratios.  To go along with these new ships,
planners have allowed for several new systems that will help ensure that LX
is not obsolete before it hits the water.  First is the use of Copernicus, a state-
of-the-art satellite communications system that far exceeds the capabilities of
systems currently used in the gator fleet. (7)  Although impressive, the
planners have realized that Copernicus may not be the best system available
when the LX enters fleet service.  So the Navy is using a "turn key" approach
in designing LX's communication system, providing weight and space
reservations for incorporating the most modern communication equipment
available at launch time.
   It is also refreshing to note that LX is currently designed to be capable of
supporting day and night, helicopter/VSTOL flight operations.  Included in
this package will be the appropriate aircraft aids to navigation, the latest
version of the optical landing system, and a night vision goggle-compatible
flight deck lighting system.  To support its embarked aviation unit, LX will
provide the necessary ground support equipment, maintenance facilities, and
aircraft hangaring spaces, as well as specialized handling areas for the
build-up and storage of helicopter weapons.  Additional refinements include
the planned use of a gas-turbine power plant instead of the traditional steam
plant so familiar to the gator Navy, offering increased maintenance reliability
and performance.  For protection, LX engineers are installing the deadly
Close-In Weapon System (CIWS), and are planning to install the Stabilized
Weapons System Platform, a pedestal-mounted unit that contains Hellfire and
Stinger missiles, 2.75 inch rockets, and a 40 millimeter gun.(7)  If needed, LX
will be capable of supporting numerous casualties with its two operating rooms
and over 100 beds.
   It is indeed regrettable that with all these improvements, LX will be lacking
in a number of areas.  First, the Navy has still not addressed the inclusion of
aircraft radar control equipment as part of the ship's aviation support
package.  If the ship is to be truly aviation capable, then consideration should
be given to including a radar approach facility similar to the ones used on the
LPH and LHA-class vessels.  This capability would allow increased aviation
flexibility in allowing LX to approach all-weather operation, facilitating
independent ship employment.  Additionally, no provision has been made for
bomb build-up areas on LX.  It makes no sense at all to make the vessel capable
of supporting AV-8 operations if it cannot handle the ordnance associated with
the airframe.
   Another area that the planners have apparently chosen to ignore is the
gasoline storage problem.  The MAGTF uses many items of special equipment
that require gasoline for operation, including outboard motors for rubber
boats, motorcycles, and generators for chemical decontamination units.  So
prevalent is this equipment, a MEB can use up to 51,000 gallons of gasoline in
a short 30 day period.(2)  The problem lies in the fact that no amphibious ship
has a tank certified to carry the fuel, and as of now, the LX will be no
exception.  With the technology that is available today, why has a suitable
gasoline storage tank not been developed?
   Finally, the most glaring issue of neglect in LX development is the lack of
offensive weaponry.  When LX was first presented to Navy officials, it
incorporated a weapon system very similar to the DD 993-class destroyer,
possessing a five-inch gun, a Standard Missile 2 (SM 2) package, and a Mark
41 Tomahawk vertical-launch cruise missile system.  But according to the
officials, LX would not need these weapons.  In their view, the amphibious
platforms would be accompanied by carrier battle groups during times of
crisis, so LX should be outfitted with defensive weapons only.  Unfortunately,
there have been several occasions when a carrier force was too far away to
assist the ARG if the need had arisen.(6:70)  In these times of reduced budgets
and shrinking carrier forces, it only makes sense to equip the LX with the
weapons needed to conduct offensive warfare.
   It is unlikely that the naval battles of tomorrow will take place on the high
seas.  Massive conflicts involving hundreds of U. S. ships are a part of history
now; in their place will be gators navigating the "brown water" littorals of
nations plagued by instability and tension.  To be successful in the
persecution of this forward presence strategy, continued modernization of the
amphibious fleet must carry on.  LX is a significant step in the right 
direction, if only for the fact that the step is being taken now.  As such, 
leaders of the
Navy's amphibious community must be wary of attempts by submarine and
aircraft carrier proponents to redirect further funding away from this vital
modernization program.  Likewise, the Marine Corps must continue to support
this program with all means available.  To do otherwise will most certainly
result in an amphibious fleet that is obsolete by the 21st century.
1.	This policy was first announced by the President in an address
delivered on August 2, 1990, however the theme has been echoed
repeatedly by senior military and governmental officials.
2.	In determining the lift fingerprint, naval planners must investigate
five areas.  These include troop transport capability, helicopter transport
capability, vehicle storage space, cargo storage space, and assault craft
transportability (assault amphibious tractors and air-cushion landing craft).
3.	This statement was made during a presentation to the 1992 class
of the USMC Command and Staff College by a speaker who requested
4.	The capital ship concept refers to the historical trend in naval
construction of emphasizing the development of vessels to support the
aircraft carrier.
1.	Barfoot, Dr. C. Bernard.  LX Project Director, Center for Naval
Analyses.  Personal Interview of 3 January 92.
2.	Groothoff, Capt. William L.  New Ship Construction Officer,
Warfighting Requirements Branch, Headquarters United States Marine
Corps.  Personal Interview of 18 March 92.
3.	Howe, Cdr. Robert H.  "Tomorrow's Gator Navy."  Proceedings
December 88: 63-67.
4.	Jankura, Cdr. Edward S.  Navy Amphibious Warfare Liaison
Officer, Warfighting Requirements Branch, Headquarters United States
Marine Corps.  Personal Interview of 13 March 92.
5.	Linn, Maj. Thomas C.  "Amphibious Shipping Shortfall Undermines
Maritime Strategy."  Armed Forces Journal International April 89:  54-58.
6.	McCartney, LCdr. Pat G.  "The Amphibious Fleet of Tomorrow."
Marine Corps Gazette April 92:  69-70.
7.	Nalchajian, Donald.  LX Design Integration Manager, Naval Sea
Systems Command.  Personal Interview of 18 March 92.

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