Based on its predecessor, the Tarawa class, the Wasp-class is a landing helicopter dock (LHD) amphibious assault ship built by Ingalls Shipbuilding (now part of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding) for the US Navy and the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). It primarily supports fast troop movement and transport, command, and accommodate forces ashore by providing a platform for helicopters, landing craft, and amphibious vehicles.

Unlike the Tarawa class, the LHDs under the Wasp-class feature a distinct design capable of employing air-cushion landing craft (LCACS) and have a large enough deck that could carry a squadron of Harrier II (AV-8B) short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) jets. Another change compared to its predecessor is that the Wasp-class is now two decks lower, the command and control facilities are relocated inside the hull, and the 127mm Mk 45 naval guns and their sponsons are relocated on the forward edge of the flight deck have been removed.

Ingalls Shipbuilding built eight ships between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, seven of which are still operational today, and one has been decommissioned due to severe fire damage. The overall length of the latter ship has also been extended to accommodate the added LCACs. Each Wasp-class LHD is now approximately 855 feet (260.7m) long with a beam of 106 feet (32.3m) and a displacement of 41,150 tons full load. Some ships in the class have slightly different measurements due to modifications, such as LHD 5-7 significantly weigh less compared to LHD 1-4 and LHD 8. The same goes for their propulsions, where LHD 1-7 all share identical steam turbines with around 70,000 horsepower, while LDH 8 features a new gas turbine propulsion system and Auxillary propulsion motors, however, generating the same total amount of horsepower. The ship can steam at least 20 knots within 9,500+ nautical miles at full speed.

Aside from aircraft, the ship is designed to carry combat vehicles, including five M1 Abrams, at least 25 armored personnel carriers, eight M198 towed howitzers, 68 lorries, and a dozen or more support combat vehicles.

Whether in peace or war, the LHD can accommodate 600 patients and has six operating theaters, reducing reliance on ashore medical facilities. Other on-deck facilities include dental, recreational facilities, and a spacious mess hall, to name a few.

It has a crew of more than 1,600 troops, plus a Marine detachment.

The first four ships of the class are armed with two Mk 29 octuple launchers for RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, two Mk 49 launchers for RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM), and three 20mm Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS) to counter low-flying and close-in threats. In addition, the ship mounts four 25mm Mark 38 chain gun systems and four .50-caliber machine guns. The other half of the Wasp-class ships have slightly reduced weapons, removing one Phalanx and one Mk 38. Meanwhile, for countermeasures, each LHDs has a 4-6 Mk 36 super-rapid blooming offboard chaff (SRBOC) decoy system, AN/SLQ-25 torpedo decoy, AN/SLQ-49 chaff buoys, a SeaGnat missile decoy system, and AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare Suite. In addition, it employs Northrop Grumman-made technologies for its sensors and radars, including AN/SPS-67 G band primary navigation radar, AN/SPN-43 air search radar, as well as ITT Gilfillan’s AN/SPS-48E E/F band 3D air search radar and AN/SPN-35A/B air traffic control radar and Raytheon-built mk23 target acquisition system (TAS) for sea-skimming missiles and AN/SPS-49(V)9 C/D band secondary air search radar.

Below are the following eight Wasp-class amphibious assault ships.

USS Wasp (LHD-1)

Honor – Tradition – Excellence

Lead ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) is the tenth USN ship to bear the name that has been used since 1775. Ingalls Shipbuilding received a building contract on February 1984, and by May 1985, the keel of the amphibious assault vessel had been laid down. Two years later, she was launched to sea and commissioned in July 1989.

USS Wasp
The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) sails through in the Philippine Sea on August 26, 2018, during a Passing Exercise (PASSEX) with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: July 1989

Status: In active service

Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

USS Essex (LHD-2)

Take Notice

The USS Essex (LHD-2) is the second of her class and is the fifth ship to carry the namesake of Essex County, Massachusetts. Her keel was laid down on March 1989 and commissioned to the Navy on October 1992.

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The USS Essex (LHD 2) transits San Diego Bay on October 20, 2017, in preparation for Exercise Dawn Blitz 2017. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: October 1992

Status: In active service

Homeport: San Diego, California

USS Kearsarge (LHD-3)

Proud – Trustworthy – Bold

The USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) is named after an American Civil War sloop-of-warship of the same name, which was derived from Mount Kearsarge that sits atop Merrimack County in New Hampshire. She was laid on February 1990 and commissioned to service on October 1993.

USS Kearsarge
The USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) traverses the Red Sea on November 2, 2015, to join and support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: October 1993

Status: In active service

Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

USS Boxer (LHD-4)

Honor – Courage – Strength

Ingalls Shipbuilding began the construction of the USS Boxer (LHD-4) shortly after receiving the ship’s building contract on October 1988. She was commissioned in February 1995 as the sixth USN vessel to bear the name of the original HMS Boxer, a captured British warship during the War of 1812.

USS Boxer
Aircraft sit on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) as she transited through the Gulf of Aden on October 28, 2013. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: February 1995

Status: In active service

Homeport: San Diego, California

USS Bataan (LHD-5)

Courage – Commitment – Honor

USS Bataan (LHD-5) is the fifth ship of her class and is named after the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines and in honor of those who fought valiantly in the campaign during World War II. The keel-laying and authentication ceremony occurred in June 1994, and the ship was commissioned in September 1997.

USS Bataan
The USS Bataan (LHD 5) transits over the Atlantic Ocean on March 9, 2019, underway to conduct sea trials. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: September 1997

Status: In active service

Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6)

I Have Not Yet Begun To Fight

The third USN ship to carry the name that was first given by legendary sailor John Paul Jones to his Continental Navy frigate, which roughly translates to “Goodman Richard” in French, in honor of the book published by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin titled Poor Richard’s Almanack (1732 to 1758). The ship had its keel laid down on April 1995, launched on March 1997, and delivered to the Navy on May 1998. Three months later, the amphibious assault ship was commissioned.

The Navy decommissioned USS Bonhomme Richard after thorough consideration due to severe damage sustained during a July fire in 2020, forcing the ship for an early retirement of merely 22 years in service.

USS Bonhomme Richard
The USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) departed White Beach Naval Facility on February 6, 2016, after embarking Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU). (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: August 1998

Status: For scrapping

USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7)

Uncommon Valor

Named after the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II, construction for LHD-7 began on September 1996, with its keel laid on December 1997—attended by Medal of Honor recipient Army Captain Jacklyn H. Lucas, who intrepidly served during the battle. USS Iwo Jima was launched on February 2000 and commissioned into service over a year later.

USS Iwo Jima
USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) arrived in New York Harbor on November 10, 2016, participating in Veterans Week 2016. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: June 2001

Status: In active service

Homeport: Norfolk, Virginia

USS Makin Island (LHD-8)

Gung Ho (“Work Together”)

The USS Makin Island (LHD-8) is the second USN ship named after the decisive Makin Island raid (1942), the target island of the Marine Raiders during the Second World War against the Imperial Japanese. The vessel was laid down in February 2004 at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi and launched in September 2006.

USS Makin Island
The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) transits the Gulf of Aden on December 21, 2014. (Image source: US Navy/DVIDS)

Commissioned: October 2009

Status: In active service

Homeport: San Diego, California