LPD-17 San Antonio Class: The USA’s New Amphibious Ships
LPD-17 Flight II picked as the next LX(R) amphibious ships. But can the US Navy afford the price tag for “affordable” ships that cost 2-4x what other countries are paying for this capability?
Oct 20/14: LX-R. It hasn’t exactly been a secret that the US Navy has wanted LPD-17 Flight II as its replacement for existing LSD-41/49 ships (q.v. July 25-28/14, Dec 6/13, April 9/13). Now Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has signed an internal memo recommending the use of LPD-17 Flight II ships to replace existing LSD-41/49 ships, rather than rebuilding existing LSDs with changes or opening competition to other designs. The cost?
Start with an estimate of $2.02 billion for LPD 28, which is higher than the original LPD-17’s final figure, in order to keep the production line going until LX(R). The Navy believes themselves to be about $1 billion short in terms of securing that funding. Regardless of what happens with LPD 28, the estimate is $1.64 billion in construction costs for the lead LX(R) Flight II ship, and $1.4 million for the next 10 planned hulls. Plus any funds required to do further design work that fixes existing LPD-17 issues.
Even assuming a multiyear procurement block buy that cuts costs over 10%, it’s hard to see that as affordable, especially in light of the USA’s expected fiscal situation and the demands of other programs. The next major step for the program is the Q2 FY2015 Milestone A review to settle the final outline, then a JROC review in Q1 2016. Purchases would begin in FY 2020, with delivery of the 1st ship expected in FY 2025. Sources: Inside Defense, “Senior Navy Officials Tell Mabus LPD-17 Variant Is Best Option For LX(R)” and “Mabus Signs Decision Memo: LPD-17 Variant Preferred Platform For LX(R)” | USNI, “Memo: Hull Based on San Antonio Design is Navy’s Preferred Option for Next Generation Amphib”.
LPD-17 San Antonio class amphibious assault support vessels are just entering service with the US Navy, and 11 ships of this class are eventually slated to replace up to 41 previous ships. Much like their smaller predecessors, their mission is to embark, transport, land, and support elements of a US Marine Corps Landing Force. The difference is found in these ships’ size, their cost, and the capabilities and technologies used to perform those missions. Among other additions, this new ship is designed to operate the Marines’ new MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, alongside the standard well decks for hovercraft and amphibious armored personnel carriers.
While its design incorporates notable advances, the number of serious issues encountered in this ship class have been much higher than usual, and more extensive. The New Orleans shipyard to which most of this contract was assigned appears to be part of the problem. Initial ships have been criticized, often, for sub-standard workmanship, and it took 2 1/2 years after the initial ship of class was delivered before any of them could be sent on an operational cruise. Whereupon the USS San Antonio promptly found itself laid up Bahrain, due to oil leaks. It hasn’t been the only ship of its class hurt by serious mechanical issues. Meanwhile, costs are almost twice the originally promised amounts, reaching over $1.6 billion per ship – 2 to 3 times as much as many foreign LPDs like the Rotterdam Class, and more than 10 times as much as Singapore’s 6,600 ton Endurance Class LPD. This article covers the LPD-17 San Antonio Class program, including its technologies, its problems, and ongoing contracts and events.
LPD-17 San Antonio Class: Capabilities and Features
Roles and Innovations
Self-Defense & Survivability: Options & Issues
LPD-17 San Antonio Class: Program, Budgets & Timelines
Flight II: What’s Next
LPD-17 Program: Performance Problems
The Vicious Cycle
LPD-17 San Antonio Class: Contracts & Key Events (1996-Present)
FY 2007 – 2008
FY 2005 – 2006
FY 2004 and Earlier
Additional Readings & Sources
LPD-17 Class Ship Background
Background: LPD-17 Ancillaries & Issues
News and Views
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