In the United States, work continues on the promising program for the development of a "light landing ship" Light Amphibious Warship (LAW). Its goal is to create a landing ship of reduced size and displacement, capable of transporting people and equipment, as well as independently disembark them. It is assumed that such ships will be able to make the amphibious fleet more efficient and flexible, but at the same time will not require excessive spending.
Opportunities and Limitations
Currently, the US Navy has seven Wasp-class amphibious assault ships, two America-class UDCs and 11 San Antonio project dock ships. They are designed to transport personnel and various equipment, including helicopters. The ships are designed for over-the-horizon disembarkation, and the delivery of troops to the shore is carried out by air or using LCAC hovercraft. The number of the latter in the Navy reaches 74 units.
For all its advantages, such an amphibious fleet has long been criticized. The main reason for claims is the high cost. Thus, a ship of the "San Antonio" type costs more than 2 billion dollars. The price of the UDC "America" is approaching 4 billion. The existing fleet is also costly to operate.
The over-the-horizon principle of landing also raises certain doubts. It requires the involvement of additional amphibious assault vehicles, and also negatively affects the rate of landing. As an alternative, ships with a bow or stern ramp were proposed for direct landing of troops on the shore - as in the so-called. tank landing ships of the past.
In April 2020, the US Navy officially announced the launch of a new program for the development of a promising amphibious assault ship. The need to create LAW was justified by changing the nature of threats at sea and the specifics of future amphibious operations. The existing UDC and air cushion boats do not fully meet the requirements of the future, and therefore it is necessary to develop a ship of a new type.
According to the preliminary assignment of the Navy, a LAW-class ship should have a length of at least 200 feet (60 m), develop a speed of at least 14 knots, operate in waves up to 5 points and show a cruising range of 3,500 nautical miles. The crew will include no more than 40 people.
On board the new ship, at least 8 thousand square feet (743 sq. M) of area should be provided for the landing of troops - from 75 people. or various techniques. It is necessary to provide a crane for handling loads. The landing is required to be carried out directly ashore using the bow or stern ramp.
The first reports of LAW were accompanied by graphics with a possible appearance of the future ship. The pictures showed a ship with a small superstructure in the bow. Almost all the volumes of the hull were given under the tank deck with the stern ramp. A helipad was provided directly above the tank deck.
Several large shipbuilding companies are participating in the competitive part of the LAW program, incl. Austal USA. In early August, at the Sea Air Space 2021 exhibition, she first showed her version of the future landing ship, in the form of graphics and a scale model.
The project from Austal USA proposes the construction of an amphibious assault ship with a length of approx. 120 m with a displacement of less than 5 thousand tons. The body of standard contours with a flat bottom in the bow is used. The bow sections of the hull are given over to the tank deck. The superstructure is located in the stern; there are also power plant units. The design performance exceeds the requirements of the Navy.
The landing craft from Austal USA gets a 10,500 sq ft (975 sq ft) tank deck. Provides placement of equipment or containers in four longitudinal rows; the outlet in the bow is double-row. For disembarkation, it is proposed to use a folding bow ramp hidden under the lifting bow of the ship. Due to this, the customer's requirements were met in terms of disembarking equipment and people on the unequipped coast, incl. with a bias.
The ship must receive all the mandatory set of electronic weapons for navigation, work in the control circuits of the fleet, etc. Means of self-defense are provided. In particular, small-caliber artillery mounts are located on the base and behind the superstructure. This provides self-defense when operating near the coast. Perhaps, in the future, the composition of weapons will be revised in order to increase firepower and provide full support for the landing.
Plans for the future
Austal USA is not the only participant in the new program. Earlier it was reported that other American companies are also showing interest in the LAW project. However, so far they have not shown their designs. Probably, this will happen in the very near future, otherwise they will not be able to claim the victory and the contract.
According to current plans, the development of projects on a competitive basis will continue until 2022-23. By this time, the fleet will have to study the proposals of the program participants, choose the most successful one and, taking into account its peculiarities, adjust its plans. In 2023, it is planned to announce the winner of the program and sign the first construction contract. The deadline for the delivery of the head LAW has not yet been determined.
Depending on the actual needs of the fleet and the appearance of the ships, the Pentagon plans to order a series of 24 to 35 units. The desired cost of the lead ship is determined at $ 156 million. As serial construction progresses, the price of new hulls should be reduced to $ 130 million.
A forward-looking concept
The advanced landing craft LAW is part of a larger concept for the development of the Marine Corps and the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). It provides for the deployment of more small units of the Marine Corps and a significant increase in its mobility. Such principles will be used in the Pacific to counter China's growing naval forces.
Within the EABO, promising LAWs will be responsible for the rapid transfer of personnel, equipment and other cargo between the islands, incl. with the landing of troops in a combat situation. It is believed that this will provide high mobility and maneuverability of the ILC, as well as prevent the enemy from organizing an effective defense.
The use of UDC within the framework of the EABO concept is not excluded, however, such combat units will not be able to provide the required mobility of troops, and will also face increased risks. Nevertheless, the combined use of UDC and LAW for solving differing problems within the same operation will provide good results.
Economic and other benefits are also provided. So, for the price of one America-type UDC, 25 smaller LAWs can be built, which will be able to carry at least no less troops. At the same time, protection from such a flotilla will become a more difficult task, and the defeat of even several ships will not lead to a disruption of the entire operation.
Old new idea
In the distant past, the US Navy restructured its amphibious forces using large UDCs and hovercraft. They refused from tank landing ships capable of independently landing forces and assets ashore. A few decades later, they return to this concept - but with the involvement of new technologies and ideas.
The reasons for this decision are quite simple and are associated with a change in the current situation and the emergence of new challenges. The existing amphibious fleet does not allow to respond to them correctly, and therefore the US Navy and ILC need new mass ships, partly similar to those that have long been removed from service. The real potential of such a concept will become clear in a few years, when the fate of the LAW program is finally clear. In the meantime, the promising program is in its early stages, and the choice of the winner and the start of construction are expected only in a couple of years.