A version of the LPD-17 hull form would be the best replacement for the aging LSD amphibious dock landing ships given the Marine Corps’ operational and lift requirements, but cost may prohibit the Navy from pursuing that option, the Navy’s acquisition chief told a House Armed Services subcommittee Wednesday.
The Navy is nearing the end of its analysis of alternatives for the LX(R) program to replace the LSD-41/49 class ships. The Marine Corps has for several years now suggested that the San Antonio-class LPDs are a great asset and would be a logical starting place when designing the LX(R). But, given the approximate $2 billion price tag of the LPDs, the Navy was not as quick to jump on board the idea.
But in a hearing with the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee on Wednesday, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) asked if and why the LPD-17 hull form should be used as the LX(R).
Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley pointed out that the LPD is a significantly more advanced ship than today’s LSDs. That being said, he noted that “the other thing the Marine Corps is wrestling with is, their vehicles, their equipment that they deploy with is a lot more than they had when the LSD-41/49 class was being built.” All the ground vehicles have been uparmored to deal with the roadside bomb threat in Iraq and Afghanistan; the ships carry the capable but large V-22 Osprey and will soon upgrade from the AV-8B Harrier to the larger F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; and the individual Marine himself carries more gear and more armor than ever before.
“I think [deputy commandant for combat development and integration Lt. Gen. Kenneth] Glueck and his team worked hard to try to determine what the future lift requirements are, and for those parameters the LPD- 17 hull form is a better fit for the Marine Corps requirement,” Stackley said. “Now the other thing we have to balance that with is affordability, that’s been one of the challenges.”
Despite the cost, Stackley said the LPD design “is prominent in that analysis of alternatives.”
He did not elaborate on other designs included in the AoA. But LPD designer and builder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] has drawn up a scaled-down “Flight II” version of the ship based on the LSD-41/49 requirements documents. The company has not released a price tag for that variant of the ship, but it has said that the LPDs have grown cheaper as the class builds out and that transitioning into LX(R) while the LPD production line is still hot would keep the ship more affordable. HII is building the last two ships of the class now at its Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss.
Glueck, who also testified at the hearing, said that when looking at future operational requirements for the Marine Corps, the service will need more independent deployers. Traditionally a three-ship Amphibious Ready Group –one LHA or LHD amphibious assault ship, one LPD and one LSD–would deploy with a Marine Expeditionary Unit. But more and more, combatant commanders are splitting up the ARG to cover more places with a limited number of ships. The LPD typically goes off on a solo mission, while the LSD of today is less self-sustainable and therefore stays with the big deck ship.
“We see that ability to be an independent deployer that the LPD-17 hull form brings in terms of her ability to do [command and control], the aviation capability, the medical capability, and the surface capability–they’re all the type of capability that you want in a future ship to do the things that our nation requires them to do,” Glueck said.