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.

Each ship has a complement of 22 officers and 397 enlisted sailors, in addition to some Marine detachments of about 402 plus 102 surge.

Below are the four LSD ships of the Harpers Ferry-class.

USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49)

“First in Freedom”

USS Harpers Ferry
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) anchors out to sea, photo taken on November 16, 2013. (Image source: DVIDS)

USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49) is the lead ship of her class, laid down by Avondale in April 1991, launched in January 1993, and commissioned in January 1995 into the Pacific Fleet. The warship is named after a town in West Virginia, a significant place during the American Civil War. Previously, the ship had been stationed at the American Naval Base in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan, until 2011, when USS Germantown (LSD-42) replaced it and returned to San Diego, California.

The ship participated in several relief efforts during its assignment in the Pacific, including recovery and relief operations after Typhoon Parma (Pepeng) in the Philippines (2009), rescue efforts following the sinking of ROK Cheonan (2010), and the devastating Japan earthquake and tsunami (2011).

Recently, the Navy announced its plans to place LSD-49 and the rest of the Harpers Ferry-class LSDs Out of Commission in Reserve, starting this year until 2025.

Launched: January 16, 1993

Homeport: San Diego, California

Status: Active Service

Proposed Decommission: 2024

USS Carter Hall (LSD-50)

“Working For Peace Ready For War”

USS Carter Hall (LSD 50)
Inside the wall deck of USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) during Eager Lion 2017. (Image source: DVIDS)

The second ship in her class and the second Navy vessel named after an estate near Winchester, Virginia, built in the late 18th century, USS Carter Hall (LSD-50), was laid down on November 1991, launched on October 1993, and commissioned on September 1995 into the Atlantic Fleet.

She spent her initial years of deployment in the Mediterranean Sea in the late 90s and the early 2000s before joining the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). In 2007, LSD-50 found itself chasing and engaging against pirates off the coast of Somalia, destroying three small boats tugging a captured Danish vessel. USS Carter Hall also participated in relief and humanitarian efforts like her sistership, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2012 Hurricane Sandy.

Launched: October 2, 1993

Homeport: Little Creek, Virginia

Status: Active Service

Proposed Decommission: 2023

USS Oak Hall (LSD-51)

“Nations’ Protector”

USS Oak Hill (LSD 51)
USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) transits the Southern Arabian Gulf on December 2, 2015. (Image source: DVIDS)

Named in honor of Oak Hill, the residence of the fifth US President and author of the Monroe Doctrine, James Monroe—USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) is the second Navy ship to bear the name and the third LSD of her class. She was laid down in September 1992, launched in June 1994, and commissioned in June 1996 into the Atlantic Fleet. Soon after her deployment, LSD-51 took on the lead role in the recovery of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 wreckage which exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New York in 1996. Afterward, she steamed toward the Mediterranean and the Black Sea for a series of naval drills, foreign engagements, and port visits. When Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coastline, the ship participated in the relief and recovery efforts, as well as during Hurricane Irma in US Virgin Islands, before being temporarily assigned in Puerto Rico to assist efforts after Hurricane Maria, all taking place in 2017.

Launched: June 11, 1994

Homeport: Little Creek, Virginia

Status: Active Service

Proposed Decommission: 2025

USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52)

“Nation’s Battle Cry”

Squad Competitions: Combat Conditioning Aboard USS Pearl Harbor
Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit execute bear crawl during a squad competition held aboard USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) on Christmas Day 2017. (Image source: DVIDS)

USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) is the fourth and final Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship bearing the namesake where World War II began for the US. She was laid down on January 1995, launched on February 1996, and commissioned on May 1998 into the Pacific Fleet. Ten years later, she joined the Peleliu amphibious assault group in the Persian Gulf, and another two years later, set sailed to the Western Pacific to become part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), where she would assist relief efforts in the wake of a devastating flood in Pakistan. The following year, she departed to join the Makin Island ARG before returning to her homeport in San Diego in 2012. She was deployed for independent missions, supporting humanitarian aid to several nations in the Pacific, before joining the USS Essex (LHD-2) ARG in 2021 with the 11th MEU to support the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan.

As of June 2022, LSD-52 remains part of the USS Essex ARG, teaming up with Carl Vinson (CVN-70) Carrier Strike Group One in the South China Sea for expeditionary strike force operations.

Launched: February 24, 1996

Homeport: San Diego, California

Status: Active Service

Proposed Decommission: 2024

The class’s initial number of ships was set at twelve, but it was later reduced to four, paving the way for the future generation class, the LX(R).