U.S. Navy’s next amphibious ship aims to blend in and squeeze


The US Marine Corps wants a whole bunch of new amphibious ships. Little ones who, in wartime, would sail alone with a few platoons of Marines on board, leaping between outposts of secret islands in the Western Pacific where the Corps would set up missile batteries and airfields inside the outermost ring of Chinese forces.

If this sounds like a dangerous mission, you are not wrong. Now consider that the ships also have to be cheap so that the US Navy, which operates amphibians on behalf of the Marines, can afford to buy up to 36 and distribute them across the Pacific.

To be cheap, the Navy plans to build the lightweight amphibious warships to commercial standards, with thinner hulls, fewer flood and fire countermeasures, and virtually no weaponry alongside a 30-millimeter gun. .

So how would the little amphibian survive in times of war? The ACT “must be like everything else,” Jay Stefany, acting chief of Navy acquisitions, told a US House of Representatives subcommittee last week.

In other words, the new amphib should blend in with commercial shipping traffic. The Chinese would not be able to target it as they could never distinguish it from the thousands of fishing boats, trawlers and coastal tankers that also ply the western Pacific.

The Navy and Marines “are hoping for a needle-in-a-haystack situation,” said Eric Wertheim, author of The world’s combat fleets.

This is actually not a bad idea. And it worked before. Argentine forces aboard a commercial-style sea transport seized British territory South Georgia at the start of the Falklands War in 1982.

More recently, the massive Chinese maritime militia has sailed trawlers disguised as fishing boats through the resource-rich waters surrounding disputed island territories, often as a prelude to a forcible takeover.

The Argentine and Chinese operations were possible in part because the ships in question could not be distinguished from strictly civilian ships until it was too late to stop them.

If anything, it becomes Easier for warships to hide among civilian ships as maritime commerce grows, said Jerry Hendrix, author of Supply and maintain a navy. This is especially true in the crowded waters of the western Pacific. “It’s pretty easy to build something that fits,” said Hendrix.

In times of war, Chinese forces would likely hunt LAWs in the same way that most Marines monitor enemy ships. Warships and patrol planes would scan remotely with active radar while listening to the enemy’s own signals.

If a radar blip looks suspicious or a military radar comes on, Chinese ships and planes would point in for a closer look with infrared sensors or the old Mark One Eyeball.

The key to thwarting these methods, Hendrix said, is to stay close to civilian ships, travel at their speed, and monitor your electronic emissions – without using military-grade radar or other active sensors until you are ready to break the cover. Ideally, your radar and electronic signatures are so innocuous that you never get attention again.

If the Navy appreciates these methods and builds a corresponding vessel, the ACT might end up looking like, well, not much. A worker cargo ship. A rusty fishing boat. A leaking tanker. Inside it could be different, of course. Inside, an LAW could look like a warship and work.

But in the case of the Navy and Marines’ new little amphibious, it’s appearances that really matter.

The Navy wants to buy the first LAW in 2023, and nine more by 2026 en route to a flotilla of 36 ships. The idea is to fit at least two of the ships into the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budgets – which have averaged $ 20 billion a year in recent years – without crowding out destroyers, frigates, submarines and the like. ships the fleet needs.

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