An amphibious assault ship (also commando carrier[note 1] or an amphibious assault carrier) is a type of amphibious warfare ship employed to land and support ground forces on enemy territory by an amphibious assault. The design evolved from aircraft carriers converted for use as helicopter carriers (and as a result, are often mistaken for conventional fixed-wing aircraft carriers). Modern ships support amphibious landing craft, with most designs including a well deck. Coming full circle, some amphibious assault ships also support V/STOL fixed-wing aircraft, now having a secondary role as aircraft carriers.
The role of the amphibious assault ship is fundamentally different from that of a standard aircraft carrier: its aviation facilities have the primary role of hosting helicopters to support forces ashore rather than to support strike aircraft. However, some are capable of serving in the sea-control role, embarking aircraft like Harrier fighters for combat air patrol and helicopters for anti-submarine warfare or operating as a safe base for large numbers of STOVL fighters conducting air support for an expeditionary unit ashore. Most of these ships can also carry or support landing craft, such as air-cushioned landing craft (hovercraft) or LCUs.
The largest fleet of these types is operated by the United States Navy, including the Wasp class dating back to 1989 and the very similar America-class ships that debuted in 2014. Amphibious assault ships are also operated by the French Navy, the Italian Navy, the Republic of Korea Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, the Brazilian Navy, and the Spanish Navy.
The term amphibious assault ship is often used interchangeably with other ship classifications. It applies to all large-deck amphibious ships such as the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH), Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA), and Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD).
In the Pacific theatre of World War II, escort carriers would often escort the landing ships and troop carriers during the island-hopping campaign. In this role, they would provide air cover for the troopships as well as fly the first wave of attacks on the beach fortifications in amphibious landing operations. On occasion, they would even escort the large carriers, serving as emergency airstrips and providing fighter cover for their larger sisters while these were busy readying or refuelling their own planes. In addition, they would also transport aircraft and spare parts from the US to the remote island airstrips.
Despite all the progress that was seen during World War II, there were still fundamental limitations in the types of coastline that were suitable for assault. Beaches had to be relatively free of obstacles, and have the right tidal conditions and the correct slope. However, the development of the helicopter fundamentally changed the equation. The first use of helicopters in an amphibious assault came during the invasion of Egypt during the Suez War in 1956. In this engagement, two British light fleet carriers, Ocean and Theseus, were converted to perform a battalion-size airborne assault with helicopters.
The techniques were developed further by American forces during the Vietnam War and refined during training exercises. The modern amphibious assault can take place at virtually any point of the coast, making defending against them extremely difficult.
Most early amphibious assault ships were converted from small aircraft carriers. As well as the two Colossus-class light aircraft carriers converted for use in the Suez War, the Royal Navy converted the Centaur-class carriers Albion and Bulwark into "commando carriers" during the 1950s. Their sister ship HMS Hermes was also converted to a commando carrier in the early 1970s, but was restored to aircraft carrier operations before the end of the 1970s. The United States Navy used three Essex-class aircraft carriers; Boxer, Princeton, and Valley Forge, and the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Thetis Bay as the basis of their amphibious assault fleet, before constructing the five Iwo Jima-class ships specifically for the Landing Platform Helicopter role.
Later amphibious assault craft were constructed for the role. The United States Navy constructed the Tarawa class of five Landing Helicopter Assault ships, which began to enter service from the late 1970s, and the Wasp class of eight Landing Helicopter Dock ships, the first of which was commissioned in 1989. The United States Navy is also designing a new class of assault ships: the first America-class ship entered service in October 2014.
The first British ship to be constructed specifically for the amphibious assault role was HMS Ocean, which was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1998. Other nations have built amphibious assault ships; the French Mistral class, South Korea's ROKS Dokdo, and Spain's Juan Carlos I are all currently active, while Australia has two Canberra-class ships based on the Spanish design.
Most modern amphibious assault ships have a well deck (docking well), allowing them to launch landing craft in rougher seas than a ship that has to use cranes or a stern ramp. The US Navy hull classification symbols differ among these vessels, depending on, among other things, their facilities for aircraft: a modern Landing Ship Dock (LSD) has a helicopter deck, a Landing Platform Dock (LPD) also has a hangar, and a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) or Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) has a full-length flight deck with internal aviation facilities for both rotary and fixed wing craft below deck.
Due to their aircraft carrier heritage, all amphibious assault ships resemble aircraft carriers in design. The flight deck is used to operate attack and utility helicopters for landing troops and supplies and on some ship types also launch and recover Harrier Jump Jets to provide air support to landing operations. STOL aircraft such as the OV-10 were sometimes deployed on and were able to perform short take-offs and landings on large-deck amphibious assault ships without needing catapults or arresting wires, although for safety and clearance reasons, the latter was most often not permitted. Landing craft are also carried, either on deck-mounted davits, or in an internal well dock (well deck in USN).
The America-class amphibious assault ships (formerly the LHA(R) class) of the U.S. Navy are designed to put ashore a Marine Expeditionary Unit using helicopters and MV-22B Osprey V/STOL transport aircraft, supported by AV-8B Harrier II or F-35 Lightning II V/STOL aircraft and various attack helicopters. The first of these warships was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 2014 to replace USS Peleliu of the Tarawa class; as many as eleven will be built. The design of the America class is based on that of USS Makin Island, the last ship of the Wasp class, but the "Flight 0" ships of the America class will not have well decks, and they have smaller on-board hospitals in order to give more space for aviation uses.
Although they only carry helicopters and V/STOL aircraft, USS America, with a displacement of about 45,000 long tons (46,000 t), is similar in size to the French Charles de Gaulle and the Indian Vikramaditya fixed-wing aircraft carriers. Also, while more than 120 feet (37 m) shorter, they are of comparable displacement to the former US Navy Midway-class aircraft carriers.
USS America can be used as a small aircraft carrier with a squadron of jet fighters plus several multipurpose helicopters, such as the MH-60 Seahawk. It can carry about 20 AV-8Bs, F-35Bs, or a mixture of the two, but the future ships of this class, starting with USS Bougainville (LHA-8), will have smaller aircraft hangars to leave room for larger amphibious warfare well decks.Amphibious Assault Ship Project
The Amphibious Assault Ship Project is a proposed procurement project by the Government of Canada for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). However, no such project has been announced by the Canadian Government and cost challenges with other naval procurement projects under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy had led to no movement on the idea.
This idea came about as part of the development of the Joint Support Ship Project of the Royal Canadian Navy and the need to improve the strategic sealift and amphibious assault capability of the Canadian Forces. Many of the capabilities required for strategic sealift were to be included in the Joint Support Ship Project, however, a dedicated amphibious assault ship was favoured by some, such as then Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier.By Late 2008, the project appeared to have been placed on hold, if not cancelled. In 2012 the Canadian Forces announced that they continue to regret not purchasing the landing ship Largs Bay. By 2013 the project received a green light for the design and contractor selection phase. The Thales (DCNS) Mistral-class amphibious assault ship design was chosen. In mid-2014, DCNS & SNC Lavalin offered three ships for CAD$2.6 Billion (2 Billion euro). SNC Lavalin will construct the vessel, while DCNS will design it and STX France will consolidate the hull for arctic operations. The Royal Canadian Navy also trained with the French Navy on a Thales built amphibious assault ship. The offer was abandoned due to budget constraints.Canberra-class landing helicopter dock
The Canberra class is a ship class of two Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships built for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Planning to upgrade the navy's amphibious fleet began in 2000, based on Australian experiences leading the International Force for East Timor peacekeeping operation. With a new climate for growing Australian Navy spending, a desire existed for forward defence capability for landing and supporting troops on Asian territory, that had never existed in Australian history, even with the old Majestic-class light fleet carriers, HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney in the 1970s. In 2004, French company Direction des Constructions Navales (DCN) and Spanish company Navantia were invited to tender proposals, with DCN offering the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship and Navantia proposing the "Buque de Proyección Estratégica" design (later commissioned as Juan Carlos I). The Spanish design was selected in 2007, with Navantia responsible for construction of the ships from the keel to the flight deck, and BAE Systems Australia handling the fabrication of the superstructure and fitting out.
Construction of the first ship, HMAS Canberra, commenced in late 2008, with the hull launched in early 2011, and sea trials in early 2014. Canberra was commissioned in November 2014. Work on the second vessel, HMAS Adelaide, started in early 2010. Adelaide was commissioned in December 2015. They are the largest vessels ever operated by the RAN, with a displacement of 27,500 tonnes (27,100 long tons; 30,300 short tons).
The ships are home-ported at Fleet Base East in Sydney (which has prompted complaints from nearby residents about machinery noise, exhaust fumes, and blocked views) and will regularly operate out of Townsville, the location of Lavarack Barracks, home of the Australian Army's 3rd Brigade. In addition to being located in North Queensland close to Asia and the Pacific Islands, one of the 3rd Brigade's infantry battalions, the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR), was selected to become the Army's specialist amphibious infantry battalion.Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship
The Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship (Hangul: 독도급 강습상륙함, Hanja: 獨島級強襲上陸艦) is a class of Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) amphibious assault ships operated by the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN). Designed by Hanjin Heavy Industries, the requirements for the amphibious landing ships were to enhance South Korea's current amphibious operation capability, both in terms of assault and military operations other than war (MOOTW) type operations.ENS Anwar El Sadat
ENS Anwar El Sadat (L1020) is an Egyptian Navy amphibious assault ship, a type of helicopter carrier, of the French Mistral class. It was originally built in France for the Russian Navy as part of a contract for two of these warships and underwent sea trials. The contract with Russia was subsequently cancelled by France and an agreement on compensation was reached with the Russian government. Egypt and France eventually concluded a deal to acquire the two warships for roughly 950 million euros. Egypt is considered the first and only country in Africa and the Middle East to possess a helicopter carrier of such type.ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser
ENS Gamal Abdel Nasser (L1010) is an Egyptian Navy amphibious assault ship, a type of helicopter carrier, of the French-designed Mistral class. It was originally built for the Russian Navy and underwent sea trials. Subsequently, the contract was cancelled by France and agreement on compensation reached with the Russian government. Egypt and France concluded the deal to acquire the two former Russian Mistral for roughly 950 million euros. Egypt is the first and to date only country in Africa and the Middle East to possess a helicopter carrier.Huntington Ingalls Industries
Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) is an American Fortune 500 shipbuilding company formed on March 31, 2011 as a spin-off of Northrop Grumman. It is the largest military shipbuilder in the United States, with its main shipyard located in Newport News.Mike Petters is currently the president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries (formerly president of the Newport News shipyard and president of the Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding).HII is the sole designer, builder, and refueler of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the United States. It is one of two nuclear-powered submarine builders (the other being General Dynamics Electric Boat). 70% of the current, active U.S. Navy surface fleet has been built by HII's former units.Japanese amphibious assault ship Shinshū Maru
Shinshū Maru (神州丸 or 神洲丸) was a ship of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. She was the world's first landing craft carrier ship to be designed as such, and a pioneer of modern-day amphibious assault ships. During some of her operations, she was known to have used at least four cover names, R1,GL,MT, and Ryujo Maru.
The Shinshū Maru was one of the ships sunk by friendly torpedo fire at the Battle of Sunda Strait, but later salvaged and returned to service.Landing Platform Helicopter
Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) is the hull classification used by a number of the world's navies to designate a type of amphibious warfare ship designed primarily to operate as a launch and recovery platform for helicopters and other VTOL aircraft. As such, they are considered a type of helicopter carrier.
Under the NATO Standardisation Agreement (STANAG) document for reporting vessels, LPH is a short form designator used for "Amphibious Assault Ship, Helicopter" defined as a "large helicopter carrier" for carrying and deploying around 1,800 assault troops using its own aircraft, but for which use of landing craft is "not a principal function". For ships of this hull classification in the Royal Navy, LPH is a direct acronym for "Landing Platform Helicopter", while the United States Navy referred to its vessels within this classification as "Amphibious Assault Ships". Regardless of the terminology, all vessels classified as an LPH possess essentially similar capabilities.
The Royal Navy also used the term "Commando Carrier", which it applied to aircraft carriers converted to helicopter only operations. The RN now operates one vessel that it classifies as an LPH, HMS Ocean. Following the British government's decision to withdraw its Harrier aircraft at the end of 2010, the former light fleet carrier HMS Illustrious also performed this role, but has now been decommissioned.
The LPH classification was used by the United States Navy for the amphibious assault ships of the Iwo Jima class, a converted Casablanca-class escort carrier 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 under NATO naming conventions as Landing Helicopter Dock or Landing Helicopter Assault ships.List of current ships of the United States Navy
The United States Navy has approximately 480 ships in both active service and the reserve fleet, with approximately 70 more in either the planning and ordering stages or under construction, according to the Naval Vessel Register and published reports. This list includes ships that are owned and leased by the U.S. Navy; ships that are formally commissioned, by way of ceremony, and non-commissioned. Ships denoted with the prefix "USS" are commissioned ships. Prior to commissioning, ships may be described as a "pre-commissioning unit" or PCU, but are officially referred to by name with no prefix. US Navy support ships are often non-commissioned ships organized and operated by Military Sealift Command. Among these support ships, those denoted "USNS" are owned by the US Navy. Those denoted by "MV" or "SS" are chartered.
Current ships include commissioned warships that are in active service, as well as ships that are part of Military Sealift Command, the support component and the Ready Reserve Force, that while non-commissioned, are still part of the effective force of the U.S. Navy. Future ships listed are those that are in the planning stages, or are currently under construction, from having its keel laid to fitting out and final sea trials.
There exist a number of former US Navy ships which are museum ships (not listed here), some of which may be US government-owned. One of these, USS Constitution, a three-masted tall ship, is one of the original six frigates of the United States Navy. It is the oldest naval vessel afloat, and still retains its commission (and hence is listed here), as a special commemoration for that ship alone.Mistral-class amphibious assault ship
The Mistral class is a class of five amphibious assault ships, also known as a helicopter carrier, of the French Navy. Referred to as "projection and command ships" (French: bâtiments de projection et de commandement or BPC), a Mistral-class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 NH90 or Tiger helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 vehicles including 13 AMX Leclerc tanks, or a 40-strong Leclerc tank battalion, and 450 soldiers. The ships are equipped with a 69-bed hospital, and are capable of serving as part of a NATO Response Force, or with United Nations or European Union peace-keeping forces.
Three ships of the class are in service in the French Navy: Mistral, Tonnerre, and Dixmude. A deal for two ships for the Russian Navy was announced by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy on 24 December 2010, and signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and French Defence Minister Alain Juppé in the presence of Sarkozy on 25 January 2011. On 3 September 2014, French President François Hollande announced the postponement of delivery of the first warship, Vladivostok, due to the Russia–Ukraine crisis. On 5 August 2015, President François Hollande and Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that France will pay back payments and keep the two ships initially produced for the Russian Navy; the two ships were later sold to Egypt.Project 1178
Project 11780 Kherson was a 1980s-era Soviet LHD program derived from the Kiev class aircraft carrier design comparable to the US Tarawa class amphibious assault ship. The ship would have been about 40,000 tons displacement, with steam turbine power plants and carried about 12 helicopters and 3 Tsaplya class LCACs. It was cancelled with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.San Giorgio-class amphibious transport dock
The San Giorgio class is an amphibious assault ship, a type of helicopter carrier, of the Italian Navy. These ships can carry a battalion of troops, and up to 36 armored vehicles. The stern floodable dock can accommodate three landing craft. The ships are based at the Brindisi naval base on the Adriatic coast.
San Giorgio and San Marco have been extensively modified into landing helicopter docks. They accommodate a full-length flight deck with four landing spots. San Giusto, the third vessel, has not been modified since construction, however featured an improved design, and is normally employed as a training ship.Spanish ship Juan Carlos I
Juan Carlos I is a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship-aircraft carrier in the Spanish Navy (Armada Española). Similar in role to many aircraft carriers, the ship has a ski jump for STOVL operations, and is equipped with the AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft. The vessel is named in honour of Juan Carlos I, the former King of Spain.The new vessel plays an important role in the fleet, as a platform that not only replaces the Newport-class LSTs Hernán Cortés and Pizarro for supporting the mobility of the Marines and the strategic transport of ground forces, but also acts as a platform for carrier-based aviation replacing the now withdrawn aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias.Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship
The Tarawa class is a ship class of Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) type amphibious assault ships operated by the United States Navy (USN). Five ships were built by Ingalls Shipbuilding between 1971 and 1980; another four ships were planned, but later canceled. As of March 2015, all vessels have been decommissioned. The class was replaced by the America-class amphibious assault ships from 2014 onward.USS America (LHA-6)
USS America (LHA-6), is an amphibious assault ship of the United States Navy and the lead ship of her class. The fourth U.S. warship to be named for the United States of America, she was delivered in spring of 2014, replacing Peleliu of the Tarawa class. Her mission is to act as the flagship of an expeditionary strike group or amphibious ready group, carrying part of a Marine expeditionary unit into battle and putting them ashore with helicopters and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, supported by F-35B Lightning II aircraft and helicopter gunships.
The ship's design is based on USS Makin Island, but to allow more room for aviation facilities she does not have a well deck, and has smaller medical spaces. With a displacement of 45,000 tons, she is as large as the aircraft carriers of many other countries' navies, and can fulfill similar missions when configured with 20 F-35B strike fighters.USS Tripoli (LHA-7)
USS Tripoli (LHA-7) is the second America-class amphibious assault ship built for the United States Navy.Wasp-class amphibious assault ship
The Wasp class is a class of Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) amphibious assault ships operated by the United States Navy. Based on the Tarawa class, with modifications to operate more advanced aircraft and landing craft, the Wasp class is capable of transporting almost the full strength of a United States Marine Corps Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and landing them in hostile territory via landing craft or helicopters as well as providing air support via AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft or F-35B Lightning II stealth strike-fighters. All Wasp-class ships were built by Ingalls Shipbuilding, at Pascagoula, Mississippi, with the lead ship, USS Wasp, commissioned on 29 July 1989. Eight Wasp-class ships were built, and as of June 2018, all eight are active.