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US Navy amphibs could soon get anti-ship missiles

USS San Antonio
US Navy file photo of a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock

US Navy amphibious ships, most likely the San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks, could receive anti-ship missiles as part of a plan to make the ships more lethal and survivable.

US Marine Corps General Tracy W. King, director of expeditionary warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, told reporters this month that amphibious warships could get the lethality boost via containerized weapons.

While he did not specify the type of weapon, one of the likely candidates is the Naval Strike Missile, which is built by Raytheon and Norway’s Kongsberg. The navy purchased the over-the-horizon anti-ship missile in 2018 for its littoral combat ships. The NSM is also expected to be fielded by the new Constellation-class frigates that are currently being built.

A Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is launched from the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4). Photo: US Navy

King revealed that the service was working with Raytheon to see if the company could ramp up production of the NSM to facilitate a possible demonstration after a year of development.

“I suspect what you will see in the next year that we will probably test-fire a system off of an L-class ship and let the fleet play around with it, build up the doctrine on how we will use it and to confirm or deny whether it is worth the expense, which we think it is. We need the operators to confirm that,” King told reporters on January 8.

He added that the addition of anti-ship missiles onto the vessels would not make them a strike platform, and would instead give them the ability to defend themselves and sink another ship. King also stressed that he would work to ensure that the efforts to field the missiles on L-class (L standing for landing) ships does not interfere with navy efforts to increase lethality on littoral combat ships.

The San Antonio-class is the US Navy’s most modern amphibious ship design. Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) built 13 Flight I units that are used to embark and land marines, their equipment and supplies ashore via air cushion or conventional landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles. They are augmented by helicopters or vertical takeoff and landing aircraft such as the MV-22 Osprey.

A follow-on version of the ship, designated as Flight II, is also under construction. The Flight II will be a more affordable ship with reduced capabilities. It will have a more traditional mast in place of the two advanced enclosed mast/sensors and an updated deckhouse and boat valley design. The ships will carry fewer troops and have slightly less vehicle stowage space but still have greater capacity than the legacy Whidbey Island-class they are replacing.