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Navy's newest LPD completes acceptance trials

After a few years of painful, expensive and embarrassing ship deliveries, the Navy seems to have finally gotten into a sweet spot with its major programs.

Naval Sea Systems Command announced Monday that it had just finished acceptance trials on its seventh San Antonio-class amphibious transport, the USS Anchorage, which followed in the footsteps of its high-performing sibling, the USS San Diego.

The early years of the class were a black eye for the Navy and the major Gulf Coast shipyards in Avondale, La. and Pascagoula, Miss. The first few LPDs required extensive rework to fix the faulty installation of their main machinery, network equipment and other essential gear. Even the most famous warship of the modern era, the USS New York -- which carries steel from the World Trade Center wreckage in its bow stem -- was sidelined for a time.

But that's all in the past. According to the Navy, the Anchorage is the best of the new gators yet. Per NavSea:

During the trials, the ship demonstrated a variety of systems including main propulsion engineering and ship control systems, combat and communications systems, damage control, various mission systems, food service and crew support and the Shipboard Wide Area Network - the electronic backbone of the ship.

Among the highlights of the at sea trial portion, Anchorage completed a four-hour, full-power run, self defense detect-to-engage exercises, steering checks, a quick reversal, boat handling and anchoring. The at-sea rapid ballast and deballast demonstration is unique to amphibious ships and consists of rapidly flooding the ship's well deck as if landing craft were to be launched or recovered. The ship is then deballasted to return to the normal operating draft. In the case of this acceptance trial, the results of the rapid ballast event beat the 15-minute time standard by almost 2 minutes, a significant achievement.

In addition to the INSURV team, Navy experts from Naval Sea Systems Command, the LPD 17 class program office, and the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Gulf Coast, participated in the trials.

"The government/industry team on the Gulf Coast is on track to deliver three LPDs within a year, a record for this ship class," said Capt. Steve Mitchell, supervisor of Shipbuilding Gulf Coast. "Each team member contributed to quality assurance, testing, and evaluation in the months preceding these trials and the successful completion of over 200 trial events this week."

So for the San Antonio class, the sixth time was the charm. Shipbuilder Huntington-Ingalls Industries is working on three more copies of the class -- USS Arlington; Somerset; and John P. Murtha -- and it's no doubt eager to beat its own record on speed and quality. The company is also no doubt eager to get still more work while it has its production line going, either on additional copies of the LPD 17 class or other variants.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert has said he wants to use "common hulls" to reduce the cost and complexity of shipbuilding, and LPD 17 could offer a good opportunity to do that. Over the years the Navy and its vendors have mocked up an LPD 17 as a new kind of hospital ship; as a replacement for the Navy's two ancient amphibious command ships; and as a replacement for its other type of amphibious transport, the Whidbey Island/Harper's Ferry class of dock landing ships.

None of those programs are on the official books today, but you've seen how eager H-I has been about touting another flavor of its National Security Cutter -- we could well see more of that as the LPD 17 run begins to wind down.

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