The United States has ten Expeditionary Strike Groups. Instead of the aerial package our Carrier Strike Groups deliver they carry an integrated mix of marines, armor, landing craft, helicopters, V-22 Osprey, and AV-8B Harrier attack planes.
The heart of the expeditionary strike group is either one of five Tarawa class landing helicopter assault ships or one of the seven Wasp class landing helicopter dock ships. The Tarawa class date from the 1970s while the Wasps are twenty years newer. Each can carry roughly thirty five aircraft, a crew of about a thousand, two thousand marines, and both have internal “wells” where other vessels can ride.
The Wasp class can support three of these guys – the LCAC, while the Tarawa can support just one.
Additional landing craft come aboard either an Austin class or the newer San Antonio class landing platform dock. The Austin class holds a single LCAC and the San Antonio class can take two. This type of vessel has great below deck capacity for landing craft but can only take a few aircraft – six helicopters for the Austin and just two to four aboard the San Antonio class.
Rounding out the amphibious assault ship complement would be a landing ship dock, either a Whidbey Island class or a Harpers Ferry class. The Whidbey Island class carries four LCACs while the Harpers Ferry class derived from it only carries two LCACs, leaving much more room for cargo. These guys have places for helicopters to land but they’re not really set up for air units.
An expeditionary strike group doesn’t go roaming around without escort and they get at least one each of the three types of escorts – cruisers, destroyers, and frigates.
The Ticonderoga class cruiser packs the heaviest punch of any surface vessel we have. The original five ships of this class were limited to 88 missiles and could not fire the Tomahawk so they’ve been retired. The twenty two remaining ships all have vertical launch systems and can carry 122 missiles. The Tomahawk cruise missile is just one tool, with antiaircraft and antisubmarine missiles rounding out the magazine contents. The Ticonderoga class are AEGIS ships, with AEGIS being the networked combatant system. They readily share information with other AEGIS ships, carriers, aircraft, and so forth, making their coordination unparalleled.
The Ticonderoga class each pack a pair of five inch guns. This is a dramatic change from the cruisers of World War II, which typically had nine eight inch guns. The seventy pound five inch round has much less range and utility in terms of shore bombardment than the two hundred sixty pound eight inch shell.
The Arleigh Burke class destroyer is a giant as far as destroyers go, displacing almost as much as a Ticonderoga class. These ships have 90 missiles or about three quarters of the capacity of the Ticonderoga and the use the same mix of cruise, antiaircraft, and antisubmarine missiles. They have a different role than the Ticonderoga, as they’re fitted with much more gear used for antiaircraft and antisubmarine duty. Later models have become more cruiser like with the fitting of the facilities needed to support the Seahawk antisubmarine helicopters found on the Ticonderoga.
The smallest surface combat ships in operation are the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates, with fifty one total ships in service today. These are 40% of the weight of the AEGIS vessels, they formerly had an older style of missile launcher but these were decommissioned in 2003, and they pack a lot of antisubmarine gear as well as a curious 76mm automatic cannon capable of firing 120 rounds per minute.
This article was originally published on DailyKos in 2010.