The amphibious cargo ships are the first class of ship designed specifically to carry troops, heavy equipment and supplies in support of amphibious assaults. Four of the five ships in the class had been transferred to the reserve fleet in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The need for additional sealift capacity resulted in all four being returned to the active fleet in 1982-1982. They are among the first Navy ships to have a fully automated main propulsion plant.
The lead ship of the class, USS Charleston (LKA-113) was decommissioned in 1992, and was joined by USS Saint Louis (LKA-116) in FY-93. Both ships were mothballed for possible activation in the future. The remaining ships will remain active through the end of their service life.
In 1993, as part of its Bottom-Up Review, the Department of Defense examined the amount of amphibious lift that would be required to fight two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts. It concluded that the Navy should maintain enough lift to transport the personnel, aircraft, landing ships, vehicles, and supplies for 2.5 marine expeditionary brigades or MEB's.
Under the 1994 Navy concept for maintaining 2.5 MEB's worth of vehicle space in the amphibious shipping fleet, two amphibious cargo ships [LKA-113 class] were retained in a reserve status that would enable them to be available for active service in a few days. Three more LKA's were stored in a nesting arrangement in which several months could be required to make them available for an emergency. The Navy's plan for these five LKA's was intended to maintain the necessary amphibious lift capability.
The Marines continue to work with the Navy to reach the resource constrained, programmatic goal of a 2.5 Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) equivalent in amphibious lift. The requirement remains at 3.0 MEB equivalents. As of 1999 the active commissioned amphibious fleet force structure could only lift 2.07 MEB equivalent of vehicles. This active lift shortfall is meant to be mitigated by the Amphibious Lift Enhancement Plan (ALEP) which retains 2 LSTs in the Naval Reserve Fleet and 4 LSTs/5 LKAs in mothballs. This ALEP is not a very good solution to sealift requirements due to time constraints of 180 days to prepare mothballed ships to get underway. This fact precludes them from participating in Major Theater of War (MTW) operational plans and, in the unlikely event the ships do become available, their characteristics will be inconsistent with the OMTFS concept. The Amphibious Lift Enhancement Program (ALEP) LKAs and LSTs will be phased out as the LPD-17 enters the Fleet.
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