The Army is known for its ability to fight on land, and most people know it has plenty of helicopters. But the Army also has an impressive fleet of watercraft that it uses for transportation, engineering, and even special operations platforms. Here are the watercraft that hardly anyone knows the Army has.
1. The landing craft that can be a floating base for special operators
Most people know landing crafts from World War II movies where ramps dropped, and soldiers rushed out and onto the beaches. Landing craft are still largely the same, with advances in technology allowing for larger, more resilient ships. The Army currently fields 34 Landing Craft, Utility 2000s.
The LCU works by pulling close to a shore, dock, or pier and dropping a ramp to form a bridge for vehicles. Supplies are then carried off by forklift while transported vehicles can roll off under their own power. The LCU-2000 can carry up to 350 tons into water as shallow as 9 feet, meaning it can drop 5 Abrams tanks directly onto a beach.
The LCU-2000s have been historically used as transportation platforms for supplies and armored vehicles, but they also saw service with special operators in Haiti and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Haiti, the ships were used to transport operators to different fights while avoiding the heavily defended road network. In Iraq, they were used as floating staging bases for operators assaulting offshore oil platforms.
2. The landing craft that can assault beaches, fight fires, and act as a command center
The Landing Craft, Mechanized 8 is primarily a supply transport ship like the LCU-2000. It is smaller and carries only 53 tons, meaning it can't lift a single heavy tank. It can carry smaller vehicles though and can operate in waters as shallow as 5 ft.
It is highly customizable though, and it's used for a variety of purposes. Its shallow draft allows it to operate inland, far away from deep water. It can be fitted with firefighting equipment, diver support equipment, or communications relays. It especially shines in disaster relief since it can deliver to an unimproved beach or damaged dock as much cargo as a C-17 can carry.
The Army has 40 LCM-8s, but it's looking to replace them. The Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) program calls for a new ship with capabilities above and beyond the LCM-8. It would carry more cargo, be more survivable under attack, and have both fore and aft ramps so vehicles could drive on and off faster.
3. Logistics support vessels that can deploy 24 combat-ready tanks
Though the Army has only eight Logistics Support Vessels, they are heavy lifters. The LSV is capable of carrying 2,000 tons from deepwater boats to shore. Though it needs 12 feet of water to float, it has a longer ramp that allows it to reach the shore on beaches the LCM-8 and LCU-2000 can't reach.
Its larger deck surface and greater capacity means it can carry 24 M1 tanks directly to a beach and the tanks can roll off, ready to fight. That's almost enough space to carry an entire armored cavalry troop in one lift.
4. Dredges and cranes for re-shaping the coast
Army engineers are in charge of U.S. dredging operations. That's the removal of silt from the ocean floor to lay communications cable, open clogged shipping lanes, or deepen waterways for larger ships. To accomplish this mission, they maintain 11 dredging vessels that remove silt and sand and dump it out to sea or in pre-planned sites.
The engineers also keep a small fleet of floating cranes used to assist with dredging, repair or build ports, and move supplies onto and off of ships.
5. Tugs that can pull aircraft carriers
Army tugs are used primarily to maneuver friendly ships in tricky ports or waterways just like civilian tugs. They are also useful for repositioning cranes and moving floating piers or barges into position.