The Secretary of Defense has directed the U.S. Navy to maintain 12 Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) supporting 2.5 Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEBs)—fiscally constrained—of amphibious assault capability. The flagships and centerpieces of these ARGs are the five hulls of the Tarawa (LHA-1) class and the programmed seven big decks of the Wasp (LHD-1) class amphibious assault command ships.
Planning documents indicate that the LHAs will reach the end of their service lives beginning in 2011. After serving on two of these ships (Saipan [LHA-2], 1979-1981; Nassau [LHA-4], 1989-1990) and reviewing various reports on these not-so-gracefully aging Tarawas, I submit that these ships will be hard pressed to last until the end of their projected 35-year service lives. Revised operational requirements to support new troop-lift needs, as well as rapid technological advances on top of a weak original design, combine to make them close to obsolete today.