Magazine article National Defense

Disaster Relief

Magazine article National Defense

Disaster Relief

Article excerpt

Naval forces see greater demand for large amphibious ships

HONOLULU - More nations are seeking to enhance their capabilities to respond to earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.

Nations with navies, in particular, are relying on their amphibious ships, which can carry hundreds, even thousands of troops and a myriad of aircraft, combat vehicles, engineering equipment and landing craft. Such vessels are equipped with medical facilities and can deliver military personnel and supplies ashore by air or by sea to provide assistance and relief.

"There's a renaissance in amphibious warfare capability going on worldwide," says Robert Work, a naval analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Amphibious ships have long been tied to images of Marines and soldiers storming the beaches in World War II. Though that legacy is undeniable, the employment of such vessels and troops in present day conflicts has evolved.

"A lot of countries no longer see the amphibious ships as purely an over-the-beach assault, World War II, old-style type of force," says Capt. Rodney Clark, commodore of the Navy's Amphibious Squadron 7. "They see the USS Iwo Jima pulling up into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and becoming headquarters for relief operations."

"Yes, we go to war. We can do that. But our real money is in the prevention of war," says Capt. Neil Parrott, commanding officer of the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship of the landing helicopter dock, or LHD, class. "The ability to go out in a global environment and show that we're here to help as needed - whether it's providing diapers for kids, or providing bullets for the Marines - it's all part of our mission."

Increased visibility of such warships in recent years during relief operations has bolstered the value of the "gator" fleets.

U.S. amphibious ships were key in delivering aid to victims of the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, the cyclone in Bangladesh in late 2007 and the earthquake in Peru earlier this year. A group of amphibious ships also were dispatched for relief operations in May following the cyclone in Burma, but the ruling military junta there did not allow the aid.

During the Cold War, the emphasis on amphibious operations declined as many maritime nations focused on anti-submarine warfare. Ships were built to detect and eliminate underwater threats such as mines and sub-surface vessels. But since the Iron Curtain fell, members of the North Adantic Treaty Organization have been refocusing on power projection in their maritime assets, says Work.

In Europe, navies are growing their fleets of amphibious ships. The Spanish and Italians are each building LHD-class amphibious assault vessels. In the Pacific, the Japanese, the South Koreans and the Australians also are building LHD-type ships, says Work.

"Amphibious ships remain the most efficient means by which to land forces from the sea, and they will be for some time," says the retired Marine Corps colonel.

Nations also are seeking opportunities to train for the full spectrum of operations, from traditional beach landings to disaster relief missions.

"It's not a trivial art form - it requires practice and it requires discipline to execute it," says Vice Adm. Samuel Locklear, commanding officer of the Navy's Third Fleet, based in San Diego. He is in charge of a biennial naval exercise here called Rim of the Pacific, which is the largest war game of its kind in the world.

Aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, a coalition of U.S., Australian and Indonesian marines and sailors are participating in the multinational exercise.

The commander of the Australian Amphibious Task Force, Capt. Peter Laver, tells National Defense that his navy is building two amphibious assault ships that are similar to the LHD-class. He points at a slide that illustrates the new vessel in comparison to fleet's current class. …

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