The US Navy has eight dock landing ships (LSD) that support amphibious landing operations by transporting Landing Craft Air Cushing (LCAC), conventional landing craft, helicopters, and other equipment onto hostile shores. Unlike the amphibious transport dock (LPD), LSD ships are designed to carry more and larger military vehicles and assets as well as capable of launching craft with their crews during amphibious assault operations and providing docking and repair services.

The development of the ship was first conceived sometime in the World War II era and was further expanded in the early 1950s when the Navy decided to build a new class with redesigned superstructures and improved hull lines, the Thomaston-class (LSD-28). This ship class served the branch for three decades before it was decommissioned and replaced by the Whidbey Island-class (LSD-41), specifically designed to operate LCAC vessels. In addition, the fifth-generation LSD featured more significant improvements, facilities, and technologies (such as additional cranes, communication, and combat systems) than its predecessors.

The fleet was introduced in 1985, built by Lockheed Shipbuilding (Seattle) for the first three ships and Avondale Shipyard (now Huntington Ingalls Industries) for the remaining five for the US Marine Corps. It has the largest capacity, with a well deck measuring about 131.1 meters (430 feet) by 15.2 m (50 ft), capable of fitting at least four LCAC hovercraft—five if the vehicle ramp is raised. It can also accommodate 21 Landing Crafts (LCM), three Landing Craft Utilities (LCU), or 64 Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAV).

Furthermore, the ship is outfitted with multiple cranes and a shallow draft, making it ideal for amphibious operations. The overall measurement of each Whidbey Island-class is about 609 ft (185.6 m) in length, 84 ft (26 m) beam, and a displacement of 15,939 tons (16,194.79 metric tons) full load.

Each Whidbey Island-class vessel is powered by four diesel engines generating 33,000 shaft horsepower to two shafts with a speed of up to 20 plus knots (over 23.5 miles per hour). The large ship has a complement of 22 officers and 391 enlisted Marine detachment, and a 402+102 crew capacity during a surge.

combat system
A Phalanx Close In Weapons System is fired aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) during a live fire exercise on December 16, 2016. (Image source: DVIDS)

For its armaments, the ship class is equipped with sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-missile platforms, including two 25mm MK 38 Machine Guns, two 20mm Phalanx Close-in weapon system (CIWS) mounts and six .50-caliber machine guns, and two Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) mounts.

Besides the amphibious landing platforms, the ship class has repair shops, helicopter landing spots, complete medical and dental facilities, automated computer-based logistic support, and a sophisticated engineering plant that boosts its self-sufficiency capabilities. By 2009, all the ships had undergone midlife upgrades to ensure they would remain in service until 2038. However, as of writing, these ships have already been proposed to be decommissioned as soon as 2026—around the same time, the under-development LX(R) class is expected to enter service.

Check out the eight Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship below.

USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41)

Intrepid Vanguard

AAVs Board the USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41)
Marines with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) board the USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41) in assault amphibious vehicles (AAV7A1) near Onslow Beach, N.C., on June 27, 2016. (Image source: DVIDS)

Ordered by the Navy in the early 1980s, USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41) is the lead ship of her class built by Lockheed Shipbuilding. Her keel was laid down in August 1981—sponsored by Sally Gorton, wife of Senator Slade Gorton—and was commissioned on February 9, 1985. She embarked on her first major operation during the 1986 NATO Exercise Northern Wedding/Bold Guard before steaming to the Mediterranean for her first deployment the following year.

LSD-41 garnered several historic firsts, including the first amphibious ship from the East Coast to deploy to the European Theater with LCACs and the first largest US warship to operate in the Black Sea, to name a few. It also participated in a number of missions and disaster relief efforts. After nearly 38 years of service, the dock landing ship was decommissioned last July 22, 2022.

Laid down: August 4, 1981

Commissioned: February 9, 1985

Status: Decommissioned (July 25, 2022)

Homeport: Little Creek, Virginia

Harpers Ferry-Class: Navy’s Sixth-Generation Dock Landing Ships

Read Next: Harpers Ferry-Class: Navy’s Sixth-Generation Dock Landing Ships

USS Germantown (LSD-42)

Folgen Sie Unseren Fusspuren! (“Follow In Our Footsteps”)

USS Germantown (LSD 42) launches RAM
Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) launches a rolling airframe missile during a live fire training evolution on January 2, 2016. (Image source: DVIDS)

USS Germantown is the second ship built in her class and the second Navy ship to bear the name after the Revolutionary War Battle of Germantown. It is the first Whidbey Island class to serve in the Pacific and has played significant roles during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm between 1990-1991.

In 2003, she had her first-ever Expeditionary Strike Group deployment to support forces involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Three years later, the ship headed towards the Persian Gulf to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom, transporting the 11th MEU to Kuwait for field exercises. When the devastating 9-magnitude earthquake struck Japan in 2011, LSD-42 was one of the ships that lent a helping hand in disaster relief efforts. Other efforts include the relief operations in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines alongside her sister ship, USS Ashland.

Laid down: August 5, 1982

Commissioned: February 8, 1986

Status: Active service (Pacific Fleet)

Homeport: San Diego, California

USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43)

Domus Fortium (“Home Of The Brave”)

USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) Dock Landing Ship
The Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) transits the Arabian Gulf on April 10, 2019. (Image source: DVIDS)

Bearing the namesake of the 1814 defense, which inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner,” USS Fort McHenry was the third amphibious dock landing ship of her class launched on February 1986 and commissioned on August 1987. She embarked on her maiden deployment in June 1988 for a six months voyage in the Western Pacific. Upon her return, LSD-43 participated in the oil spill cleanup effort in Alaska that lasted nearly two months.

Like USS Germantown, the USS Fort McHenry also participated in Operation Shield/Desert Storm in the early 1990s before heading back to the Western Pacific for another deployment period. She was the first of her class to be decommissioned after 33 years of service on March 27, 2021.

Laid down: June 10, 1983

Commissioned: August 8, 1987

Status: Decommissioned (March 27, 2021)

Homeport: Mayport, Florida

USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44)

Defending The Constitution

USS Gunston Hall
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) operates in the Mediterranean Sea on November 6, 2012. (Image source: DVIDS)

The first ship built by Avalon Shipyards, USS Gunston Hall, was named after an 18th-century Georgian mansion near the Potomac River in Mason Neck, Virginia, owned by American Founding Father George Mason. This ship was launched in June 1987 and commissioned two years later, homeported at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Virginia.

In 1999, LSD-44 was deployed as part of the USS Kearsarge (KSG) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and participated in Operation Allied Force and Joint Task Force (JTF) Shining Hope, mobilizing Marines from the 26th MEU Special Operations Capable into Albania to help construct refugee camps for fleeing civilians amidst the fighting in Kosovo. In 2008, the ship found itself chasing a hijacked tanker alongside the lead ship, USS Whidbey Island, and saved hostages held by Somalian pirates. Two years later, the amphibious landing dock participated in the rescue efforts in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, serving as a base of relief operations. Despite experiencing a fire breakout in 2015, the ship continues to serve the Navy well into the 2020s, with the proposed Out of Commission in Reserve to take place sometime this year.

Laid down: May 26, 1986

Commissioned: April 22, 1989

Status: Active service (Atlantic Fleet)

Homeport: Little Creek, Virginia

USS Comstock (LSD-45)

Teamwork – Drive – Courage

USS Comstock (LSD 45) Dock Landing Ship
The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45) floods its well deck while sitting anchored off the southern coast of California on April 11, 2016. (Image source: DVIDS)

USS Comstock is the second US Navy ship to bear the namesake and is known for being the first combatant ship to have a fully integrated crew of male and female sailors. The ship was laid down in October 1986, launched in January 1988, and commissioned in February 1990, with its homeport in San Diego, California, under the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3 in 2002 before joining battleship Makin Island ARG. As the development of the next-generation dock landing ship is underway, LSD-45, alongside her sister ships, is set to be placed Out of Commission in Reserve by 2026.

Laid down: October 27, 1986

Commissioned: February 3, 1990

Status: Active service (Pacific Fleet)

Homeport: San Diego, California

USS Tortuga (LSD-46)

Tough – Tall – Tenacious

USS Tortuga
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) is moored at White Beach Naval Facility during the embarkation of the 31st MEU on August 20, 2012. (Image source: DVIDS)

Named after the Dry Tortugas National Park, USS Tortuga (LSD 46) is the sixth warship of her class launched by Avondale Shipyards in September 1988 and commissioned into the Navy in November 1990. Her maiden deployment included a Mediterranean and South Pacific expedition to support UNITAS 2000 after the USS La Moure County (LST-1194) was severely damaged before joining a NATO peacekeeping force. In 2005, the Navy announced that the amphibious dock ship would be forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan, to replace USS Fort McHenry. She stayed homeported there until 2013, when she eventually returned to Little Creek, Virginia, following a successful hull swap with USS Ashland. LSD 46 is slated for decommissioning sometime this year.

Laid down: March 23, 1987

Commissioned: November 17, 1990

Status: Active service (Atlantic Fleet)

Homeport: Little Creek, Virginia

USS Rushmore (LSD-47)

Nobility Power

USS Rushmore (LSD 47) Dock Landing Ship
Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47) steams in a close formation of ships and submarines from international partnership nations during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. (Image source: DVIDS)

USS Rushmore (LSD-47) is the second Navy ship named after Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills, South Dakota, and the fourth ship in her class to serve the Pacific Fleet. The seventh dock landing vessel, Rushmore, was laid down by Avondale Shipyards in November 1987, launched in May 1989, and commissioned in June 1991, with Meredith Brokaw—wife of NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw—as the ship’s sponsor.

Aside from delivery missions, local operations, and military exercise participation, LSD-47 has also been deployed to several armed conflict operations, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom under battleship Bonhomme Richard ESG 5 in 2004 and supported Maritime Security Operations in the Persian Gulf weeks later. Still serving the Navy well into the 2020s, the aging vessel is planned to be placed Out of Commission in Reserve in 2024.

Laid down: November 9, 1987

Commissioned: June 1, 1991

Status: Active service (Pacific Fleet)

Homeport: Sasebo, Japan

USS Ashland (LSD-48)

Deliver Liberty – Defend Freedom

USS Ashland
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD-48) gets underway from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story to undergo sea trials on September 15, 2012. (Image source: DVIDS)

The eighth and final ship of her class, USS Ashland (LSD-48), was laid down in April 1988, launched a year later, and commissioned in May 1992 at New Orleans. As of writing, the homeport of the amphibious dock landing ship has been moved to Sasebo, Japan, under the Amphibious Squadron 11. In 2005, the LSD, alongside USS Kearsarge, was targeted by three Soviet-built Katyusha rockets while anchored near a port in Jordan. While both ships were spared, one Jordanian soldier was killed, and another was wounded after two out of three hit the nearby docks.

Throughout the 2000s to the 2010s, LSD-48 was deployed in several anti-terrorist operations and participated in relief operations, including the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia in 2015.

As of January 23, 2023, the ship operates as part of the USS America (LHA-6) ARG and is set to participate in a three-week-long drill between the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and USMC’s III Marine Expeditionary Force from February 16 to March 12 to take place near the former’s Hijyudai Maneuver Area in Okinawa. Dubbed the “Iron Fist 23,” the USS Ashland will be one of the dock landing ships to participate in the military exercise along with the USS Green Bay (LPD-20) and LST JS Osumi (LST-4001) operated by the USN and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), respectively. In addition, forces under the JGSDF forces will join the training, including the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB), 1st Airborne Brigade, and 1st Helicopter Brigade, along with the Western Army Aviation Unit.

Laid down: April 4, 1988

Commissioned: May 9, 1992

Status: Active service (Pacific Fleet)

Homeport: Sasebo, Japan