The primary war-fighting mission of the LHA-1 Tarawa class is to land and sustain United States Marines on any shore during hostilities. The ships serve as the centerpiece of a multi-ship Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG). Some 3,000 Sailors and Marines contribute to a forward-deployed ARG composed of approximately 5,000 personnel. Nearly three football fields in length and 20 stories high, the ship's two-acre flight deck, 18,519 square-foot hangar deck, and 250-foot well deck enable an embarked landing force to accomplish its mission around the globe.
The ships are designed to maintain what the Marine Corps calls "tactical integrity" - getting a balanced force to the same place at the same time. One LHA can carry a complete Marine battalion, along with the supplies and equipment needed in an assault, and land them ashore by either helicopter or amphibious craft. This two pronged capability, with emphasis on airborne landing of troops and equipment, enables the Navy and Marine Corps to fulfill their present-day mission. Whether the landing force is involved in an armed conflict, acting as a deterrent force in an unfavorable political situation or serving in a humanitarian mission, the class offers tactical versatility.
The Tarawa class is designed to operate independently or as a unit of a force, as a flagship or individual ship unit in both air and/or surface assaults, these ships are key elements of the amphibious assault forces for the Navy. They incorporate the best design features and capabilities of several amphibious assault ships currently in service: the Amphibious Assault Ship (LPH), Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD), Amphibious Cargo Ship (LKA), and Dock Landing Ship (LSD).
These ships have the general profile of an aircraft carrier, with superstructure to starboard, flight deck with nine landing spots, helicopter elevators to port (20-ton, folding) and aft (40-ton). They carry approximately 1,200 tons JP-5 fuel for helicopters. They can support a 35-aircraft complement including AV-8B fighter/attack V/STOL Harrier jets, AH-1 helicopter gunships, CH-53E Super Sea Stallion "heavy lift" and CH-46D/E Sea Knight helicopters. The LHA's full length flight deck can handle ten helicopters simultaneously, as well as the AV-8 HARRIER jump-jet aircraft and OV-10 BRONCO fixed-wing turboprop reconnaissance aircraft [which is no longer in service]. LHA-1 carried 20 AV-8B Harrier V/STOL attack fighters during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
There is also a large well deck in the stem of the ship for a number of amphibious assault craft, both displacement hull and air cushion. The well deck accomodates up to four LCU 1610 or one LCAC or 7 LCM(8) or 17 LCM(6) landing craft. Two LCM(6) and two LCP are stowed on a platform abaft the island. As an amphibious assault launching platform, they employ a variety of surface assault craft including the Navy's newest 40+ knot LCAC, 135-foot Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and other amphibious assault vehicles. Although the LHA usually doesn't carry Landing Craft, Air Cushioned (LCAC) boats onboard, they frequently operate with them and control them.