Marines will ride to future battles in these new ships

Some people joke that “Marine” stands for “My Ass Rides In Navy Equipment.”

Surely that’s been the case. To get to Iwo Jima, the Marines needed to sail in on transports. And what was true in 1945 is no less true in 2017.

Later this month, Marines will be testing a lot of new technology, from landing craft to robots. But the new gear won’t just be painted green. The big gray pieces of Navy equipment that Marine butts ride in are also changing. When the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) entered service in 1989, the AV-8B Harrier was very young – the AV-8B+ with the APG-65 radar and AIM-120 AMRAAM capability was still years away from a test flight.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. | U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Lawrence Grove

Today, the Wasp is nearing 30 and she has six sisters, and a half-sister, the USS Makin Island (LHD 8) in service with her — plus the USS America (LHA 6), the lead ship of a new class of big-deck amphibious assault ships. Everything on board will have to go in by air. Both the America and later the Tripoli will lack well decks for the hovercraft (LCACs) used to land troops, making them, in essence, light carriers on the order of Japan’s Izumo or the Italian Conte di Cavour.

Oh, each still holds 1,871 Marines, according to shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls.

So, we now shift to the future. The future USS Bougainville (LHA 8) has been ordered and is expected to enter service in 2024. The Navy also announced the future USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD 28) in March 2016, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Artists’s impression of the future USS Bougainville (LHA 8). (Scanned from Huntington Ingalls handout)

The LHA 8 and LPD 28 represent the future of amphibious ships. LHA 8 is the first of the more permanent class, while LPD 28 is going to be a transition vessel from the San Antonio-class amphibious transports to the LX(R) program that will replace the Whidbey Island and Harper’s Ferry landing ships.

The LHA 8 will correct an omission in the first two America-class amphibious assault ships: It will have a well deck capable of holding two LCACs. Getting that means a bit of shuffling – Huntington Ingalls notes that 1,000 compartments have been eliminated, added, or moved around. The ship will have a smaller hanger than the USS America (18,745 square feet versus 28,142 square feet), but it will have over 12,000 more square feet to store vehicles.

Over 1,600 Marine butts will ride in this ship.

A comparison of the sterns of USS America (LHA 6) on the left and the future USS Bougainville (LHA 8) on the right – showing the major difference between the two ships. (Photo by Harold Hutchison)

The LPD 28 is a San Antonio-class ship. But in some ways she is a lot like the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, a half-sister to USS San Antonio and her 10 other sisters intended as a bridge to the LX(R) program. Huntington Ingalls is proposing a version of the San Antonio hull for the LX(R) program – largely to avoid growing pains.

Arist’s impression of the future USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD 28). (Scanned from Huntington Ingalls handout)

The most visible change is her masts – LPD 28 will have traditional masts as opposed to the stealthy masts on the other San Antonio-class ships. She will also have simpler roller doors for her helicopter hangar, and an open upper stern gate. She will carry 650 Marines to their destination.

In short, these new ships will continue to haul Marine butts to their eventual destinations. Even as technology changes, some things will remain the same.