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The LHD is an improved follow-on to the five ship Tarawa-class LHAs, sharing the basic hull and engineering plant.

The LHD l has an enhanced well deck, enabling it to carry three LCACs (vice one LCAC in the LHAs).

These ships conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea as the centerpiece of the Navy's amphibious strategy of "Forward ...

From the Sea." They provide the means to deliver, command and support all elements of a Marine Landing Force in an assault by air and amphibious craft.

This unit included 12 CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift helicopters, four CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, four AH-1W Super Cobra gunships, two UH-1N utility helicopters and six AV-8B Harrier attack jets.

When 15 MEU deployed to West Pac aboard LHD 2 Essex in June 1998, the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) was Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-163 [HMM-163 Reinforced).

They transport and land ashore not only troops, but also the tanks, trucks, jeeps, other vehicles, artillery, ammunition and various supplies necessary to support the amphibious assault mission.

Because of the desire to maximize the number of deck spots, no ski-jump V/STOL ramp is fitted, reducing the potential effectiveness of the Harrier contingent. The ships have 34-ton-capacity aircraft elevators, with the stern elevator relocated to starboard from the centerline aft position on the LHA 1 class.

To carry out its primary mission, USS WASP has an assault support system that synchronizes the simultaneous horizontal and vertical flow of troops, cargo and vehicles throughout the ship.

Two aircraft elevators service the hangar bay and flight deck.

Six cargo elevators, each 12 by 25 feet, are used to transport material and supplies from the 100,000 cubic foot cargo holds throughout the ship to staging areas on the flight deck, hangar bay and vehicle storage area.

Cargo is transferred to waiting landing craft docked within the ship's 13,000 square foot, 266 foot long, well deck.

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