CRS report details US Navy Light Amphibious Warships plans

Harry Lye 1 June 2020 (Last Updated June 1st, 2020 13:56)

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report has provided details on the US Navy’s plans to procure up to 30 new Light Amphibious Warships (LAW) that would be central to the US Marine Corps pivot to focusing on expeditionary activities in the Pacific.

CRS report details US Navy Light Amphibious Warships plans
An amphibious assault vehicle enters the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). Image: US Navy.

The new ships would be smaller than Arleigh-Burke class destroyers with a crew of 40 sailors and able to carry up to 75 marines. On board, the ships would have 8,000 sq ft of space for carrying the Marines’ equipment and supplies.

In early planning, the US Navy said the LAW vessels could be adapted from commercial designs and a minimum of 200 feet in length. The CRS said the LAW ships would be a fraction of the size of existing amphibious vessels. In-service Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) like Wasp-class ships are 843ft long.

The US Navy plans for the LAW vessels to have a maximum draft of 12 ft, allowing the ships to navigate shallow waters and be brought in close to the shoreline where a stern or bow landing ramp would allow Marines to transit directly from ship to shore and vice versa.

Each ship would have a range of 3,500 nautical miles as part of a task group or operating on its own at a maximum speed of 14 knots. The ships will also be fitted with self-defence weapons

The US Navy is looking to procure 28 LAWs between 2023 and 2026, following a research phase to be funded under the 2021 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA). In the bill, the navy has requested $30m in initial R&D funding to develop the concept for the vessels.

A key feature of the ships will be that they will be relatively cheap to procure. The report reads: “The Navy states that it wants the LAW’s unit procurement cost to be ‘several digit millions, not triple-digit millions,’ a suggesting a unit procurement cost of less than or close to $100m.

“By way of comparison, the US Navy’s LHA-type amphibious ship, which was procured in FY2017, has an estimated unit procurement cost in the Navy’s FY2021 budget submission of about $3.8 billion, and LPD-17 Flight II amphibious ships being procured by the navy have unit procurement costs of about $1.8bn to $2.0bn.”

The Navy said it received responses to its initial request for information (RFI) from 13 companies, including nine shipyards that would be interested in taking on the programme.