Naval Systems - The San Antonio Class evolves

By Edward J. Walsh

The San Antonio LPDs are 684 feet long with a 105-foot beam and displace about 25,000 tons. The ships are powered by four Colt-Pielstick diesel engines that generate about 41,600 horsepower. The LPDs land Marines from landing craft launched from a well deck and from MV-22 Ospreys from the ship’s flight deck.

The class—despite construction delays in the early years—has introduced many innovations in ship design for the Navy. It is the first Navy ship class designed with separate quarters for female crew members.

In late 2015 Navy-Marine Corps leadership agreed the LPD design would serve as the baseline for a future amphibious ship—the LX(R)—that will replace the Whidbey Island - and Harpers Ferry -class LPDs. The LX(R) also will be built at HII, which now is the Navy’s sole builder of “gator” ships.

Huntington Ingalls and Navy officials say the LX(R) will retain the LPD-17’s dimensions and features, including hull and machinery spaces, passageway width, arrangement of ladders, weapons, and vehicle-, landing craft-, and aviation-support capabilities.

The LX(R) design is expected to provide some 8,000 more square feet of vehicle space than the ships in the Harpers Ferry class; increased troop capacity (650 instead of 500); and enhanced command-and-control, flight deck, and aviation maintenance facilities, among other upgrades. The Navy plans to build 11 LX(R)s, but it could seek to build 13, in line with a force-level goal of 355 ships. Procurement of the first LX(R) is set for FY20.

The original San Antonio design, completed in the mid-1990s, has been modified and upgraded, notably by the addition of the advanced enclosed mast amidships that houses the ship’s communications and radar antennas.

The San Antonio class was conceived as the Navy’s testbed for a revolutionary approach to shipbuilding. The Navy would provide specifications, based on desired requirements, to an industry team, rather than a completed design. Departing from tradition, the industry team, not the Navy, would design the ship.

The Navy required the shipbuilding team to use a so-called integrated product data environment (IPDE) approach, calling for the ship and systems builders to engineer, build, and integrate some 200 separate system “modules.”

Among the innovations for the San Antonio class is a Raytheon-built shipwide area network, or SWAN, built with fiber-optic cable, that links command-and-control, damage control, engineering control, navigation and steering, and other systems. Raytheon has served as ship systems integrator for the class, responsible for life-cycle engineering and support for integrated shipboard electronics.

Design changes envisioned for the LX(R) include upgrading to the consolidated afloat networks and enterprise services (CANES) network developed by Northrop Grumman, already in service on board destroyers, cruisers, carriers, and the Wasp-class LHDs.

Mr. Walsh is a veteran reporter of Navy and Marine Corps News and the former editor of Naval Systems Update.


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