A total of eight Whidbey Island-class ships were built between 1981 and 1992, of which Fort McHenry LSD-43 was decommissioned in March 2021.
The US currently has the most powerful amphibious force in the world. In addition to modern amphibious assault ships, such as America-class or Wasp-class, the US Navy operates seven Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships.
The Whidbey Island-class was built to replace eight of the previous Thomaston-class. Compared to its predecessor, the Whidbey Island Class introduces to the fleet a significant improvement in amphibious warfare. The new and improved capabilities are updated communications and combat systems, 20- and 60 ton cranes, expanded repair shop facilities, two helicopter landing spots, complete medical and dental spaces, and automated, computer based logistic support. It is the first ship built to embark and support the U.S. Navy’s new Air Cushion Landing Craft (LCAC).
The ships have a displacement of about 16,100 tons, a length of 186 m, a beam of 26 m, and a draft of 5.94 m. Basically, this class has a large well deck for the transport of United States Marine Corps vehicles and a large flight deck for the landing of two Sikorsky Sea Stallion helicopters. The Sea Stallions helicopters, designation CH-53D, each have the capacity to carry up to 38 Marines and are equipped to carry out assault, support and transport operations.
In addition to the anti-aircraft and anti-missile guns and missile carried for active defence, extensive passive measures are available. A powerful ESM suite is complemented by chaff rockets capable of ‘seducing’ incoming missiles and AN/SLQ-49 chaff buoys that are effective for several hours in moderate sea conditions, producing a radar signature greater than that of the ship. The Nixie decoy system has a similar effect on torpedoes trying to target the ship.
The ship is powered by four SEMT-Pielstick 16 PC2.5 V 400 diesel engines which provide 33,000 shp. The ship can reach a top speed of 20 knots. The crew consisted of more than 300 additional enlisted men and 30 officers. As of 2009, all ships of the class are scheduled to undergo a midlife upgrade to ensure that they remain in service through to 2038.