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LHD-1 Wasp class

The Wasp-class are the largest amphibious ships in the world. WASP class ships are the first to be specifically designed to accomidate the AV-8B Harrier jump jet and the LCAC hovercraft, along with the full range of Navy and Marine helicopters, conventional landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles to support a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of 2,000 Marines. The ships also carry some of the most sophisticated communications, command and control capabilities afloat, alongwith state of the art electronic systems and defensive weaponry.

The LHD is an improved follow-on to the five ship Tarawa-class LHAs, sharing the basic hull and engineering plant. The LHD l has an enhanced well deck, enabling it to carry three LCACs (vice one LCAC in the LHAs). The flight deck and elevator scheme is also improved, which allows the ship to carry two more helicopters than its predecessor, the LHA. Differences from the LHA 1 include: use of an LSD/LPD-type lowering stern gate, vice the sectional, rising gate of the LHA; provision for three LCACs in a single-bay, longer and narrower docking well (which can alternatively hold up to 12 LCM 6, six LCM 8, or two LCUs); revised and strengthened aircraft elevators; internal stowage for ship's boats; a bulbous forefoot to the bow; larger-area bilge-keels; a squared-off flight deck forward (made possible by the omission of the 5"/54 cal guns and capable of spotting nine CH-53E helicopters at once); using HY100 steel to construct the stronger flight deck; additional cargo elevators (six 5.4-ton-capacity); a lower, narrower, and longer island; a narrower vehicle ramp to the flight deck; and better ballistic protection.

These ships conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea as the centerpiece of the Navy's amphibious strategy of "Forward ... From the Sea." They provide the means to deliver, command and support all elements of a Marine Landing Force in an assault by air and amphibious craft. In carrying out their mission, the ships have the option of utilizing various combinations of helicopters, Harrier II (AV-8B) Jump Jets and air cushion landing craft (LCAC), as well as conventional landing craft and assault vehicles, illustrating the LHD's flexibility. In addition to embarked landing craft, the ships carry four LCPLs and two utility boats. Off the landing beach, the ships can ballast more than 15,000 tons of seawater for trimming during landing craft launch and recovery operations in the well deck.

Because of the desire to maximize the number of deck spots, no ski-jump V/STOL ramp is fitted, reducing the potential effectiveness of the Harrier contingent. The hangar can accommodate 28 CH-46-equivalents. The ships have 34-ton-capacity aircraft elevators, with the stern elevator relocated to starboard from the centerline aft position on the LHA 1 class. Some 1,232 tons of JP-5 aviation fuel and about 50 tons of vehicle fuel can be carried.

During her first Mediterranean deployment, commencing in 1991, WASP's Marine Composite Helicopter Squadron comprised ten AV-8B Harriers, 12 CH-46 medium-lift assault helicopters, five UH-1N light attack helicopters, and four CH-53E Sea Stallion heavy-lift assault helicopters and the three LCACs of Assault Craft Unit Four (ACU-4). During the deployment, four more Harriers and two SH-3 Sea King helicopters joined the air group, while several of the CH-46 and CH-53E helicopters left to make room for them.

During the early-2000 Mediteranean deployment on LHD 1 Wasp, the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) for the 24th MEU(SOC) was Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 (HMM-263 Reinforced). This unit included 12 CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift helicopters, four CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, four AH-1W Super Cobra gunships, two UH-1N utility helicopters and six AV-8B Harrier attack jets. When 15 MEU deployed to WestPac aboard LHD 2 Essex in June 1998, the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) was Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-163 [HMM-163 Reinforced). This unit included 12 CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift helicopters, four CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, four AH-1W Super Cobra gunships, two UH-1N utility helicopters and six AV-8B Harrier attack jets.

For the WestPac Deployment 01-1 on LHD 4 Boxer the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) for the 11th MEU(SOC) was Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-268 [HMM-268 Reinforced]. This unit included 12 CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift helicopters, four CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, four AH-1W Super Cobra gunships, and three UH-1N utility helicopters, but it did not include the complement of six AV-8B Harrier attack jets carried on other deployments.

To carry out its primary mission, USS WASP has an assault support system that synchronizes the simultaneous horizontal and vertical flow of troops, cargo and vehicles throughout the ship. Two aircraft elevators service the hangar bay and flight deck. Six cargo elevators, each 12 by 25 feet, are used to transport material and supplies from the 100,000 cubic foot cargo holds throughout the ship to staging areas on the flight deck, hangar bay and vehicle storage area. Cargo is transferred to waiting landing craft docked within the ship's 13,000 square foot, 266 foot long, well deck. Helicopters in the hangar bay or on the flight deck are cargo-loaded by forklift.

WASP-class ships can also provide command and control and aircraft facilities for sea control missions, while operating with an aircraft carrier battle group. They transport and land ashore not only troops, but also the tanks, trucks, jeeps, other vehicles, artillery, ammunition and various supplies necessary to support the amphibious assault mission. Monorail trains, moving at speeds up to 600 feet per minute, transport cargo and supplies from storage and staging areas throughout the ship to a 13,600 square foot well deck which opens to the sea through huge gates in the ship's stern. There, the cargo, troops and vehicles are loaded aboard landing craft for transit to the beach. Air cushion landing craft can "fly" out of the dry well deck; or the well deck can be ballasted down for conventional craft to float out on their way to the assault area. Helicopter flights also transfer troops and equipment to the beach, while the ship's air traffic control capability simultaneously directs close air tactical support provided by embarked jet aircraft and helicopter gunships.

Although the ships are capable of embarking two LCU's this configuration is not recommended to be used for deployment planning due to the requirement to lash, block, and shore LCU's in accordance with current wet well procedures. During an administrative onload, two LCU's can be embarked and offloaded with proper planning considerations. Only pax and cargo (4K forklift and monorail) operations can be conducted when two LCU's are brought far enough into the well to close the stern gate. To conduct simultaneous vehicle operations with two LCU's, the second LCU must extend out of the well. The ships can can carry up to 61 Amphibious Assault Vehicles (Landing Vehicle Tracked Personnel LVTP-7), with 21 stowed in upper vehicle stowage and 40 stowed in the well deck.

Command facilities include an Integrated Tactical Amphibious Warfare Data System, Ship Signals Exploitation Space, Flag Plot, Landing Force Operations Center, Joint Intelligence Center, Supporting Arms Coordination Center, Tactical-Logistical Group, Helicopter Logistics Group, Tactical Air Control Center, Helicopter Direction Center, and Helicopter Coordination Section. LHD 1 was originally fitted with the SPS-52 3-D air search radar (replaced by SPS-48E) and had the SYS-2(V)3 sensor fusion system for defensive weapons control; later units have SYS-2(V)5. USQ-119(V)11 Naval Tactical Command System, Marconi ICS.3 (URC-109) integrated communications system, SMQ-11 weather satellite receiving system, and USQ-82(V) data multiplexing system are fitted. The are to receive the Joint Services Imagery Processing System-Navy (JSIPS-N).

As of October 1994, three LHD class ships had been delivered to the fleet. The fourth LHD ship was commissioned in February 1995. These first four LHD ships were outfitted with the SPS-48E and SPS-49 air search radars, the MK 23 target acquisition system, and the SLQ-32 electronic warfare system as detection elements. The ACDS integrated with the AN/SWY-1 performs threat assessment and weapons control. Engagement elements included the NATO Sea Sparrow Surface Missile, Phalanx Block 1, and the MK 36 decoy launching system. This defense configuration produced a performance result that was below the capstone requirements for the class.

Beginning with LHD 1 in 1996-97, all ships of the class are receiving the SSDS (Ship Self-Defense System) Block 1 integration system for the sensors and weapons to improve response time against antiship missiles. Mk 31 RAM launchers have been mounted at the forward end of the island superstructure and on the starboard quarter, the latter replacing one Phalanx mount.

Two additional LHD class ships were delivered to the fleet in 1997 and 1998. These ships were delivered with ACDS and the AN/SWY-3 control configuration. This integrated capability/configuration included the MK 23 Target Acquisition System and multiple NATO Sea Sparrow Surface and RAM missile systems. No LHDs are slated to receive RAM Block 1 until late fiscal year 2002, with LHD 5 and 6 slated for fiscal year 2006 and 2007, respectively. The Navy assessed that this improvement provided the ship class with a high capability against the near- and mid-term threat and a moderate capability against the far-term threat.

The USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) was outfitted with the AN/SPS-48E and the AN/SPS-49 MPU radar, MK 23 Target Acquisition System, ACDS, an AN/SWY-3 configuration, and Phalanx Block 1A. The Navy planned to improve the AN/SWY-3 capability in late fiscal year 2002 by an upgrade of the MK 23 Target Acquisition System and incorporation of RAM Block 1. These improvements should enable the USS Iwo Jima to have moderate to high capability against near- and mid-term threats. The USS Iwo Jima is also slated to receive a Mission Force Protection upgrade in the 2006-2009 time frame.

WASP class ships are 844 feet long with a beam of 106 feet. Two steam propulsion plants, the largest in the Navy, develop 70,000 shaft horsepower for each of the two propulsion shafts. These plants allow the 40,500 ton ship to reach speeds greater than 20 knots. Plans to have later units propelled by more economical LM-2500 gas turbines were abandoned. The ship's two propulsion plants generate a total of 400 tons of steam per hour. If the energy of the two boilers were converted to electrical power, it could power a city of 160,000. Electrictal generators aboard ship provide more than 16,000 kilowatts of power for shipboard systems. Two pumping stations provide a 450,000 gallon fueling capacity for embarked aircraft and other vehicles. Onboard distilling plants provide up to 200,000 gallons of fresh water each day.

Each WASP class ship has accommodations for 3,000 troops and crew members. Ships crew consists of 98 officers and 983 enlisted personnel. For the comfort of the 1,075 crewmembers and 1,600 embarked troops, all manned spaces and berthing areas are individually heated and air conditioned. Crew and troop berthing are on the same deck level, with galleys and mess facilities nearby. Berthing areas are subdivided to provide semi-private spaces without adversely affecting efficiency. Deck and wall coverings are decorative but also serviceable and easy to maintain. Messing areas facilitate rapid feeding in a restaurant atmosphere. Onboard recreational facilities include a state-of-the-art Library Multi-Media Resource Center with Internet access, a weight room, arcade machines and satellite television capabilities.

The ships have six fully equipped operating rooms and a 600 bed hospital, by far the largest at sea with the exception of hospital ships. LHD-1 has medical and dental facilities capable of providing intensive medical assistance to 600 casualties, whether combat incurred or brought aboard ship during humanitarian missions. The corpsmen also provide routine medical/dental care to the crew and embarked personnel. Major medical facilities include four main and two emergency operating rooms, four dental operating rooms, x-ray rooms, a blood bank, laboratories, and patient wards. In addition, three battle dressing stations are located throughout the ship, as well as a casualty collecting area at the flight deck level. Medical elevators rapidly transfer casualties from the flight deck and hangar bay to the medical facilities.

Ships of the LHD 1 multipurpose amphibious assault ship program are named for famous U.S. Navy warships which themselves were not named for battles. In naming LHD 1 "WASP," the Navy honored nine previous ships, dating to the American Revolution, which have borne this illustration name.

The LHD-1 class ships are built utilizing efficient preoutfitting and modular construction techniques. Hundreds of smaller subassemblies, in which piping sections, ventilation ducting and other shipboard hardware, as well as major machinery items, such as main propulsion equipment, generators, and electrical panels were constructed. The preoutfitted subassemblies were then joined with others to form assemblies which were welded together to form five completed hull and superstructure modules. These five giant ship modules, each weighing thousands of tons, were joined together on land to form the completed ship's hull prior to launch. The result of this early outfitting and modular construction was a ship 74 percent complete at launch. The ship's launching was just as innovative as her construction. The vessel is rolled from her construction area to a floating drydock for launch on a rail transfer system. The drydock is then positioned over a deep-water pit and ballasted down, allowing the ship to float free.

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