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LHA-8:See It Coming

March 22, 2010

LHA-6 America concept graphic.

The Marines didn’t care for the LHA-6 America, which is very good for flying off planes, the planned F-35B JSF. The problem is, the giant new amphibious warship doesn’t come with a well-deck for the type of WW 2 style beach landing the service prefers but rarely performs. Here is Phil Ewing at Navy Times:

More than two years before the amphibious assault ship America enters the fleet, Marine officials have already drawn up early plans for a version of the ship that includes a major component America is missing — a well deck.
The “LHA 8 concept,” as it was called in a presentation Monday by Marine Corps Combat Development Command, would combine new aviation features the Marines want in the America class with a traditional big-deck capacity for landing craft and green gear.

Through my crystal ball (also known as past experience), I already have a clear vision of what this multipurpose wonder will look like. The 45,000 ton ship will grow another 10,000 tons, perhaps a hundred feet longer. The pricetag, now surpassing $3 billion each, will rise another $1 billion at least. The 10 helicopter carriers we currently possess will likely shrink to about 6 in a decade or two.

Logically, the tonnage on this ship would be frozen, the aviation facilities reduced, the well-deck work into the design. As I said, this would be the logical course. Historically though, Navy procurement rarely follows logic, giving us 14,000 ton destroyers for $6 billion  each, and 3000 ton patrol boats for $700 million  each.

In a rational world, the type of ships we buy would reflect our needs, plus sparse shipbuilding budgets. Though our current ships like the Makin Island and Wasp are enormously capable, huge and few platforms are increasingly inflexible due to their shrunken numbers and also are at risk from new anti-access weapons, even older diesel submarines and mines. A better fleet of smaller amphibious light carriers would return flexibility and survivability to the Marines, while sustaining, perhaps increasing our numbers. The French Mistral and the Spanish Juan Carlos are outstanding examples of the type, both pricing at a reasonable half-billion each.

Otherwise, you get more of this:

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Rocco permalink
    January 10, 2016 3:01 pm

    America LHA-6-7 ,is fine as is with out a well deck.we need this to be an only aviation assault ship & not risk being to close to shore if it don’t need to be just to drop off grunt’s! I agree on having both but only LHA & LPD’s .soon America will test the F-35 & time will tell how it will work with deployment’s under her belt before going with well decks to begin with. If the ships size stays the same ( LHA-8 ) then either develop a launch recovery system like was mentioned or put a pop up ramp on the bow for heavy take off as needed. Make the bridge island smaller. The Admiral & captain get smaller quarters!! Lol! Or at least the cheaper options is to stretch her to 900 ft & be done. Size does matter! I seriously doubt that a nice size CV is in the works in our future when CVNs die!

  2. Anonymous permalink
    February 22, 2015 10:31 pm

    Rocco. I agree also with Jed & mike can we really have a jack of all trades ship & master of all class ship????!!!!! I say yes it’s called uss America class LHA 6,7,8,9,10,11,12 etc,! But build them both ways man!!!!. The F-35 is that jet! The modern F-4 phanthom whitch I worked on! He’ll the Essex class carriers got every tax payers dollars out of them & then some. A angle deck could be put on the ship to accommodate current F -18 & AWACS ! Almost every Essex class ship had one put on! The only reason we made supper carriers is because a jet was needed for each mission until something better was made! All that needs to be done is make the ship 900′ long have 2 cats on the bow 3 cables out back! & u probably don’t have to change propulsion system once the super carriers get worn out we can’t afford to refuel them because we’re stupid (Obama )! Right! Why build new bigger sitting ducks I know I was on all 3 carriers lex,fid & Nimitz ! Let’s get it right Navy!

  3. June 5, 2012 3:27 pm

    To Retired Now. I appreciate your military service, but you’re wrong about Avondale Ship Systems getting the most money for the LHA’s and LHD’s. Every LHA and LHD has been built by Ingall’s Shipbuilding, Litton, which purchased Ingall’s in 1961, Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, which purchased Litton in 2001, and Huntington Ingalls Industries, which purchased Northrop on the 31st of March, 2011. They were busy yesterday floating the USS AMERICA LHA-6 all day yesterday (04 June 2012). It was being floated while The SSN-782 USS MISSISSIPPI was in Pascagoula March 25th through June 4th for Commissioning and Christening. The LHA-6 was taken out of the Dry/Wet Dock and parked around 3:30 pm 04 May 2012

  4. Clinton Stallard permalink
    May 30, 2011 12:04 am

    To: Information Dissemination
    Sent: Sun, May 29, 2011 12:45:13 AM

    Subject: Info for Information Dissemination

    We do not need F35s that we cannot afford that still have not resolved the question of overheating the deck under the aircraft when it lands, much less its enormous cost and reduced weapons payload. There is no technical reason that the Gator Navy could not be able to launch and retrieve F18s off an LHA using a catapult technology that I tried to sell to NAVAIR back in 1994. To the Marines, the name of the game is how many airframes can you deliver and deploy/retrieve to support land attack missions. The name of the game is to supply a mobile airfield as close to the battle as possible. Along with the CVN, the LHA can supply almost the same capability to support the AirLand battle, just not carry as many aircraft.

    I am currently investigating using the same technology for NASA with backers/team members in NASA. A NASA internally generated request for funding has been submitted and in place requesting funding of launch systems for horizontal launch of space planes to low earth orbit. It would be appropriate if the Navy would offer to co-fund my catapult/launch system for Naval use just as they offered to co-fund electromagnetic launch development with NASA and which is now a dead issue with NASA. I sat in a congressional hearing of the Seapower Subcommittee of the HASC and listened to a 3 star tell the congressmen that the Navy would make it work. His response to any and all questions was “We will make it work”.

    People fell in love with electromagnetic launch which the LHA/LHD community does not have the on-board generating capacity to support and forgot about my catapult technology which is based upon combustion generated gases driving a launch piston and which can far outperform the current NAVAIR steam catapults and the EMALS launcher for CVN 78. The combustion gas piston technology makes very limited demands on the volume and energy generating capability of the host ship, but is self sufficient except for some very limited tankage for fuel/oxidizer storage. An LHA derivative could have a well deck and still launch/recover a number of FA18 E/F fighters.

    NAVAIR (Richard Bushway) had planned to budget $35 million for the combustion gas driven catapult (it was in the published budget) when my management decided to kill my catapult and support the EMALS launcher (for CVN77) as it had the potential of higher profit (I have a copy of the memo so stating). Note that they missed installation on CVN77 totally and had to slip their schedule by 7 years to CVN78. The flywheel alternators failed and the replacement motor generators are huge and 3 are required for each catapult, so 12 motor generators are required. which add significant weight topside in a stability critical design and chew up a huge amount of ship volume The motor generator armatures, as they will be accelerated and decelerated to store and supply launch energy will potentially be weak points as the G loads on the MG set armature will be impressive. The system is still in land based testing for installation on CVN78. I think the term is “CF”

    For what it is worth, I retired from the CVN78 program, Nuclear Services and am very knowledgeable about catapults.


  5. BLEVINS, DON permalink
    September 24, 2010 1:02 pm

    I’m on a LHA and this ship is UNSAT!! It is BS that a ship is made, ie LHA-6 America, without a welldeck and it’s considered a dog gone amphibious ship. My ship is awesome and I am proud to be a Gator! HOOYAH GATORS…..HOOYAH! And on my “last ship”, the Tarawa, that was even more awesome that this one! HOOYAH DECOMED TARAWA….HOOYAH!!!

  6. March 24, 2010 3:35 pm

    As this thread is receding into history I will try to go for a quick reply.

    Size? What do you mean by size? One day soon you are going to have to do a post to explain your idea of size. Do you mean displacement? Do you mean volume? A 200 ton ship isn’t twice as long as 1000 ton ship………

    Atlantic Conveyor compared to even modern warships is large (both in terms of volume and displacement.) But what is targeted by the ASM is the volume, the space the ship occupies. ASM are designed to hit smaller targets than frigates; a Type 23 has the radar signature of a large trawler yet it still has to carry Sea Wolf, its small signature is no safeguard Therefore the 200m or so extra meters in length of Atlantic Conveyor over a Batch 1 Type 42 is immaterial. Mathematically speaking it makes no difference. Yes the missile will look for the best fix. But with counter measures etc. it could be said a big ship is just as “big” a target as a smaller one. Further bigger platforms are better sensor platforms resulting in better weapons performance. And a bigger platform with proper subdivision (and good fire fighting capability) will always have better survivability than a small platform. That is pure physics; 10 large water tight compartments will always “float” better than 5 smaller water tight compartments.

    A last few things. HMS Sheffield actually took a lot of damage from the Excocet strike and remained afloat. A simple steel box without armour. It was the fire that drove the crew off. And the water used to fight the fire (free surface) effect that sunk her. There is no need to go into the RN failings with regard to fire at sea in 1982. But lets speculate what would have happened if the Falkland lessons were known before the conflict; cotton clothes instead of nylon, smoke curtains etc. There would have been a good chance that Sheffield would have survived. But in this hypothetical scenario a larger HMS Sheffield (perhaps with double bulkheads) would have definitely survived.

    Bigger hulls and good fire fighting systems (sprinklers, gas drenching not depending on the crew) means increased survival ability.

  7. leesea permalink
    March 23, 2010 10:03 pm

    Smitty you are right the Marines need to re-structue the ARG, too few ships present too many high values targets. The big decks are not the heavy haulers of the ARG the LSD Cargo Variant have the heavy and big gear along with the LPDs. That is why I see NO reason to jack up the cost and any USN big deck amphib by inserting a wet well dock system.

    perhaps Retired Now (like myself) can quantify the cost of a wet well installation?

    Mike the Atlantic Conveyor is totally not related to this issue! It was a jury rigged make do combination of cargo on a unconverted sealift ship which was a STUFT Ship Taken Up From Trade. RN term of art.

  8. Retired Now permalink
    March 23, 2010 9:15 pm

    LHA-6 “class” has provided a LOT of money to the Northrop Grumman “designers” here on the Gulf Coast, mainly at Avondale, New Orleans.

    If you want to return to LHD-8 MAKIN ISLAND design, be prepared to pay a LOT of money (and time) to do major design changes to LHD-8 with her well deck.

    That’s because there were some significant design problems that Northrop never addressed while building LHD-8. They simply “rolled” many drawings from LHD 7 and incorrectly assumed that LHD-8 was not that big a change.

    They were wrong. You cannot go back to build more ships like LHD-8 without first funding both time and money to Northrop to correct and update all of their drawings for Makin Island “class”. Recall the massive cost and time overruns on MAKIN ISLAND ? They were all caused by Hurricane Katrina. She was an extreme “challenge” to build. Don’t expect follow on LHD-8’s to be quick and easy (or cheap).

    As LHA-6 get closer and closer to completion, you will learn of her impending cost overruns, most of which are related to huge efforts at redesign, which are tres cher.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 23, 2010 6:38 pm

    The point being, on the Atlantic Conveyor there should have been more dispersal of equipment, though I realize it was a hurried operation. Now that we have the time we should learn these lessons on the real amphibs about combat loading and not placing too many vulnerable assets in a few hulls.

    I don’t think we have the lessons of history in mind when we build ships today. We are just thinking of things like “operating costs”, and fuel savings. The Navy just isn’t thinking about a war of attrition at sea, much like the Army pre-9/11, i.e. peacetime mode.

  10. March 23, 2010 3:09 pm

    “I think the crew of Atlantic Conveyor circa 1982 might beg to differ and the Yompers who had to do without essential helo support because of the need to transport them in a single vulnerable platform. And all platforms are vulnerable, to an extent, and it is better to have many more hulls for the enemy missileers to worry over than a few very large bulls eyes.”

    Um. The AC didn’t have the subdivision of the RN amphibs. Further unlike modern container vessels whose modern fire fighting systems approach RN standards (I would argue in some ways are superior as they are design to allow small crews tackle large fires) she was compromised in her damage controls. Nor did AC posses even modern (for their time) AAW systems. As you say all platforms are vulnerable. But comparing a 1970 container ship to modern amphib’ isn’t valid.

    As for “yompers” I thought we were talking about US Marines here not the real thing! ;) (Only jokin’)

    At the time of the war there was debate whether vehicles could cross the Camp; there are some roads (read tracks, really rough tracks) but obviously funnelling forces down one route is ill advised. The HC took a squadron of Scimitars/Scorpions and the Marines took a few BV mainly for HQ. If you look up you spec’s of these vehicles the ground pressures they exert are less than a man’s. (Especially a giant marine carrying his Bergen, weapon, two mortar bombs, etc. etc.) So the strategy given the uncertain terrain, fixed position of the Argentine forces around Stanley (but not entirely known) came the plan to fly 3 Cdo across the camp. Vehicles in sufficient numbers weren’t taken; TBH I am not sure 3Cdo had them anyway. (I suppose if there were available space limitations, optimism combined would have resulted in a choice being in made. etc.) But imagine if the RM had AAVs. They could have swam out of Fearless and Intrepid (or slightly bigger vision thereof) and various STUFT Ro-Ro’s and set off (with some engineering support) for Stanley) (Yes I know this idealised and the Falkland’s terrain may have produced funnelingly of vehicles at times. But I am not proposing Marines fought from the AAV like mech’ infantry. I am proposing their use as transport.)

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    March 23, 2010 1:31 pm

    I don’t have a good answer for you Lee, other than, perhaps, because their helicopters were relatively short ranged. Plus, as the biggest ship in the MEU, it also carried the most and the only way to offload the heavier stuff was via the well deck.

    Perhaps we need to decompose the ARG into more focused assets. Maybe something along the lines of,

    – 1 x small “Sea Control Ship” STOVL carrier (AV-8B, F-35B, perhaps some rotary aviation)
    – 1 x LPH/LHA (the bulk of the rotary aviation, limited ship-to-shore connectors)
    – 2-3 x LPD/LSD (ship-to-shore connectors, assault landing force, limited aviation)

    This way the carrier doesn’t have to switch between rotary and fixed-wing aviation ops as often. The LPH/LHA can focus on rotary-wing ops. And the LPD/LSDs can continue to do what they do best.

    When not needed as an ARG, they could split into two 2-3 ship groups, centered around an aviation vessel.

  12. leesea permalink
    March 23, 2010 12:25 pm

    WHY does an aviation-centric ship which will always be far from shore need D=dock system at all? Some might say that such a ship could operate independently as well it might IF one does not count on the combatants and naval auxiliaries which would also be needed to protect and support ANY big deck amphib anywhere anytime.

    As far as other navies L-type ships goes, I would look hard at their details. Just because they have a wet well does not mean that they can conduct an amphibious assault. Some do, some don’t. The Tenix ships apparently are supposed to conduct forcible entry ops. Those which can handle an LCAC, I would put in the former group.

    Many of the other ships like Ocean, Defender, Protector, and LSD(A) are more for support having the wet well docks for systainment using lighterage vice assault craft.

    I know that is cutting a fine distinction but it goes to ship costs and ROCs.

  13. B.Smitty permalink
    March 23, 2010 9:01 am


    Labels are important. They provide short-hand insight into the nature of things.

    The “D” in LHD stands for “Dock”. It is nearly synonymous with a ship that has a significant well deck and can carry and deploy large landing craft. These landing craft are needed to offload heavy vehicles such as tanks, and other heavy cargo. HMS Ocean only carries four small LCVPs and doesn’t have a well deck.

    You can call it whatever you want, but I think you’ll get raised eyebrows if you call it an LHD.

  14. March 23, 2010 7:06 am

    Wow. Smitty. If we’re going to get wrapped up in the classification of ships then how about this from Wikipedia.

    “””””Landing Platform, Helicopter (LPH) is the United States Navy hull classification symbol for the amphibious assault ships of the Iwo Jima class and three converted Essex class aircraft carriers.

    No ships of this classification are currently in active service with the United States Navy, having been replaced with multi-purpose ships classified as Landing Helicopter Dock or Landing Helicopter Assault ships. France now operates the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, which has a helicopter deck and well dock.

    The Royal Navy equivalent term was “Commando Carrier” applied to aircraft carriers converted to helicopter only operations. The RN operates the only LPH type ship still in operation, HMS Ocean.”””””””

    So my take on that is the Royal Navy calls them Commando Carriers and the rest of the world has moved on to naming this type ship LHD. If LPH makes you happy then fine but the classification of ships is a moving target….I choose to call it an LHD.


  15. B.Smitty permalink
    March 23, 2010 6:57 am


    HMS Ocean is an LPH, not an LHD. The LHD label is usually reserved for an aviation vessel with a well deck (at least in the U.S.).

  16. March 23, 2010 4:07 am

    Wow a light carrier that can embark a San Marco Battalion, AAV’s and Main Battle Tanks? Plus it has a ramp in the rear of the ship similar to that found on the HMS Ocean….hmmm….

    Nice aircraft carrier…or LHD. Once naval nomenclature is settled on the different classes of ships then we won’t have to make it up. As it now stands, this light carrier has a smaller displacement than the Wasp Class LHD’s….can carry fewer troops AND aircraft AND equipment.

    If you insist on calling it a carrier then lets call it what it is then…a modern day Jeep Carrier.

  17. leesea permalink
    March 23, 2010 12:29 am

    In a word “WHY”?

    Why do the Marines want to take an aviation centric ship and reduce its internal payload capacity by putting a wet well dock system in it?

    Why not leave the cargo and landing craft ops for the LPDs and LSDs to perform? Those are the ship types specifically involved in landing the landing force, they are the ships which control the assault wave, they are where the landing craft in the assault wave is loaded up, they are where the larger pieces of tactical equipment are stowed. They have the internal capacity needed. IF the USMC does not have enough lift capacity for the assault echelon, it would seem to be prudent to build more LPD/LSD types rather than LHA/LHD types (which are more expensive)?

    Why depend on a wet well dock system at all? They all breakdown at one time or another, and then there is NO secondary means to discharge the large heavy cargo that would be lifted ashore in landing craft?

    When a wet well dock system fails the large tactical equipment is bottled up inside that particular ship’s cargo holds. Since NO amphib has any significant over the side i.e. Lo/Lo systems on them, the only cargo which can be lifted off an amphib with a broken wet well dock is smaller cargo (less piece, weight cube). Of course big deck amphibs can fly such smaller items and troops ashore.

    Even when the Marines get their CH-53K in service those helos cannot lift many of the pieces of tactical equipment ashore.

    Why not have new LHAs focus on what the ship type is very good at – troop lift, tactical airlift, troop/cargo transport, medical evacuation, C4ISR.

    AND since the big deck amphibs are minimally armed, the Navy would surely not risk them going close enough to the beach to be of any consequence for cargo throughput. Is their some synergism about large flight deck amphibious warfare ships and wet well docks I am missing?

    I say again that wet well dock systems are World War Two anachronisms. The US Marine Corps needs to put the past behind them and develop newer forms for delivery of tactical equipment ashore.

  18. B.Smitty permalink
    March 22, 2010 10:58 pm

    Solomon said, “Even the highly touted Cavour is only equaling what we do with our LHD’s.

    Cavour is primarily a STOVL carrier. It’s not an LHD.

  19. WTH permalink
    March 22, 2010 10:47 pm

    RE: “Why not have separate LPD and LPH”

    USN does this now. Look at how an ARG is notionally built. LHD/LHA, LPD, LSD, one of each. America (LHA(R)) is effectively an LPH but USN has lost the plot on naming/classing conventions as of late.

    LPD-17, assuming they can stay underway is a massive capability upgrade from previous LPDs in terms of lift and LSDs are going to be around for a bit with their significant surface lift capability. LPH plus those two lift capable ships is fine and appropriate as it brings even more capability.

    The marines have a couple of issues that at face value are conflicting, they want to get lighter but are still not happy with Navy shorting amphibious lift. The tyranny of tonnage for sustaining operations always applies. That said I’ve been wondering what happens if you start looking at an Absalon style ship not as a frigate so much but a light amphib. It’s capable of putting ashore a company sized element of Marines and integrated into an ARG construct it would bring a lot of flexibility, get ship numbers up and actually fit a niche both within and outside the ARG, especially if it could support the advanced gun system. It would provide a very flexible option for force employment and a far better platform for fleet station, partnership station, theater security, etc. than an LPD or any other asset we’re using now.


    Mike, adding helo’s to Burkes was the best thing that ever happened to that design. IIAs are far more capable ships than FLT Is. That argument is a non starter.

  20. March 22, 2010 8:55 pm

    “When it comes to moving marines bigger is better.”

    I think the crew of Atlantic Conveyor circa 1982 might beg to differ and the Yompers who had to do without essential helo support because of the need to transport them in a single vulnerable platform. And all platforms are vulnerable, to an extent, and it is better to have many more hulls for the enemy missileers to worry over than a few very large bulls eyes.

  21. March 22, 2010 7:09 pm

    When it comes to moving marines bigger is better. Even light infantry (like marines) need a mountain of kit. You need a battalion (at least) to do anything useful ashore. Add in support arms such as engineers, etc. and you are looking at a lot of cargo. Much of it large and therefore not heli-portable.

    European ships lack speed. There is much merit in being able to move an ARG 500 miles a day.

    I didn’t think LHA-6 was a good idea the first time I saw it. Over the last few years I have gone off the idea of heli-borne warfare. The Taliban may not have much success knocking helicopters out of the air, but they aren’t a first world army. The further out an LZ is from the point of attack the less effective the troops are. Burdening troops with equipment to carry mitigates their fitness. etc. etc. The cost of helicopter compared to landing craft/vehicles/ship tonnage.

    I will confess that I have started to like the idea of the EFV type vehicle. (What an awful thing to confess!)

  22. March 22, 2010 5:10 pm

    Don’t be too quick to pat the European’s on the back. If you look at the size of their ships you’ll see that they’re significantly smaller than ours.

    The LHD-1 is almost 15000 tons heavier than the Canberra Class LHD….and the Canberra is considered a big deck in their Navy. As a matter of fact the LPD-17 is as big as the Canberra.

    Additionally they don’t bring the same number of Marines/Soldiers on their ships as we do…nor the vehicles…or the variety of aircraft.

    Even the highly touted Cavour is only equaling what we do with our LHD’s.

    I don’t know if smaller is necessarily better anymore. Look at the French Navy’s latest Anti-Air Frigate. Its missile load out is surprisingly small…I don’t think it would hold up for more than a few days in serious combat.

    We have alot of problems but the types of ships we’re building (at least on the high end) aren’t one of them.

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 22, 2010 4:59 pm

    Solomon, makes sense, even having both. My fear is the Marines keeping all the aircraft the America is supposed to carry, PLUS THE WELL DECK. This is typical with Navy procurement. They did it with the Burkes when they wanted to add helos after Flight I, and will likely repeat the same mistakes. But you don’t need so many extra add ons with new technology.

    This is why the Europeans out-build us, with fewer mistakes and at greater reduced costs.

  24. March 22, 2010 4:53 pm

    the reason why you don’t want to lose the well deck is because the idea of ‘distributed operations from the sea’ are going forward.

    mini amphibious ready groups will help with the presence deficit and with the possibilities of a company becoming the smallest unit of action in the Marines the possibilities are endless.

    with that in mind an aviation centric platform is beyond stupid…its not in keeping with the doctrine being developed by the Marines.

    you want more ships doing more things? fine…this is how you do it. step one. get the well deck on the USS America class.

  25. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 22, 2010 4:45 pm

    “Why not have separate LPD and LPH”

    I agree, and theres a greater chance something survives if combat ensues. Often these focused mission ships can do more than is expected of them, but just as frequently expensive swiss army knife ships end up doing work far less worthy of their immense cost and great size.

  26. Jed permalink
    March 22, 2010 3:44 pm

    Why not have separate LPD and LPH ? Both could then be cheaper and your spread your eggs around more baskets – perhaps a minimal well deck on the LPH to allow maximum flexibility – but only size as required.

    I like the RN mix of small LPD (or the Auxilliary Landing Ship Logistics as we call it – the Bay Class) and LPH (HMS Ocean). Admittedly the Bays would need a bigger well deck, but that’s the beauty of the Enforcer class platform, it comes in different variants !

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