Based on its predecessor, the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships (LSD), the Harpers Ferry-class primarily features a toned-down design—particularly on its well deck or landing craft utility (LCU) capacity, to make room for more vehicle stowage and cargo space. Modifications to the ship resemble an amphibious transport dock, but the US Navy opt not to designate it as such.

Besides the storage capacity difference, the Harpers Ferry-class follows most Whidbey Island-class components, including the first eight ships’ propulsion plant and defense and combat systems—although both ship classes have different armament placement—including two 25mm MK 38 Machine Guns, two 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts and six .50-caliber machine guns, and two Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) mounts. More on its specifications, the four ships have almost the same structure as their predecessor, measuring an overall length of 610 feet (wavelength of about 580 ft), a height of about 177 ft, a beam of 84 ft, and a displacement of 16,400 tons at full load.

While sharing the same propulsion system, the Harpers Ferry-class underwent a major upgrade on its engine, including fuel and maintenance savings systems, engineering control systems, increased air conditioning/chill water capacity, and air compressor replacement. Avondale also changed the steam systems of the class, now with all-electric functionality to reduce maintenance.

Built by Avondale Shipyard (now part of Huntington Ingalls Industries), the construction of the class began a year after the commissioning of the last Whidbey Island-class ship USS Ashland (LSD-48). The vessel will serve the same purpose, however, focusing less on Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) vessels and more on other amphibious vehicles and cargo transport missions. The maximum number of LCACs it can accommodate has been reduced to at least two. Another carrying option includes one LCU or four conventional landing craft mechanized (LCM)-8, nine LCM-6, or fifteen Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs). Meanwhile, at its stern, it can support the weight of at least two AAVP7A1, an M60A1, or M1A1 Main Battle Tank, or two M923 5-ton trucks simultaneously. Moving on to the ship’s deck, it has two landing spots that accommodate aircraft as large as the CH-53E.