Performing in groups of three ships, the Amphibious Force in America’s Navy is known for its ability to move swiftly through water and over land. They operate year-round, handling power projection and beach assault, as well as assisting in crisis response, humanitarian operations and disaster relief.
Today’s amphibious ships are specially designed with a flight deck to support transport and attack helicopters, as well as Harrier “Jump Jets.” Some aircraft carry troops, cargo and supplies. Others perform defensive measures against submarines and/or any other type of land or sea military threat. Now, a whole battalion can leave the ship and land ashore without any troops or supplies getting wet.
Although the primary objectives are the same — get the troops, their equipment and supplies to the beach — each of the six different ship classes within the Amphibious Force has been designed to provide particular holding, landing and launching capabilities.
Along with troops, equipment and supplies, these ships hold tracked and wheeled all-terrain vehicles, a large array of helicopters, other amphibious landing craft and assault vehicles. These self-sufficient vessels make it possible for the U.S. to exercise military power far from American shores.
Wasp Class — LHD
The largest of the amphibious ships, the Wasp class is usually the command ship of an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and is fully capable of bringing to the beach an amphibious assault, advance force and special operations personnel. It also provides for non-combatant evacuation and other humanitarian missions.
Tarawa Class — LHA
Although these ships have a slightly smaller flight deck and storage availability than the Wasp class, the Tarawa class can still carry up to 30 helicopters and a wide array of landing craft, supplies and equipment. Depending on the mission, the Tarawa class usually deploys with assault helicopters and a host of other amphibious landing craft.
Amphibious Assault Ships — LHD and LHA
Amphibious Assault ships are the largest and most flexible ships in the Gator Navy. Resembling mini aircraft carriers in size, communication and force capability, these ships are called upon as primary landing ships for assault operations of the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU).
Amphibious Transport Dock — LPD
These versatile ships incorporate a flight deck and a well deck that can be stabilized with water to support amphibious landing craft. Some of the Navy’s highest achievements in technology, storage capability, living standards and amphibious assaults are incorporated in the San Antonio class LPD.
Dock Landing Ship — LSD
Dock Landing ships were designed specifically to operate as landing craft air cushion (LCAC) transport vessels. They have the largest capacity for these types of landing craft (four) of any of the amphibious landing ships. They also provide docking and repair services for small ships, boats, LCACs and other landing craft.
Amphibious Command Ships — LCC
The Navy’s fleet command ships incorporate some of the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art computers and intelligence capabilities to command, control and communicate with every ship, division and force.
Amphibious ships get the troops out to sea, but it’s the landing craft that actually bring the troops, tanks, trucks, supplies and equipment to and across the beach. The “Gator Navy” is constantly improving landing craft, making them faster and stronger, with larger cargo storage areas.
Landing Craft Air Cushioned — LCAC
These specialized, high-speed landing craft travel up to 45 knots (more than 50 mph) while carrying a very heavy payload (up to 75 tons). They are used to transport troops, tanks, trucks, weapons, cargo and equipment from ship to shore and across the beach. With innovative air cushions, LCACs can reach 70% of the world’s shoreline, while conventional landing craft can only reach 15%.
Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo — LARC
This landing craft is half boat/half vehicle. When it’s not delivering troops and equipment to the shore, this amphibious armored vehicle floats, patrols and controls the beach.
Landing Craft, Mechanized and Utility — LCM/LCU
These landing craft are responsible for bringing up to 375 tons of tracked and/or wheeled vehicles and troops from larger assault ships to beachheads or piers. Both bow (front) and stern (back) ramps lower, allowing quick loading or unloading from either end.