As part of Seafair Fleet Week I went for a tour aboard USS Somerset (LPD 25 – Landing Platform Dock) the US Navy San Antonio-class Amphibious Transport Dock berthed at Pier 90 in Seattle, Washington (launched in April 2012 and commissioned into service in March 2014, it is based in San Diego, California and is 1 of twelve planned LPD’s in this class). It is an impressive ship that had plenty of US Navy and US Marine Corps personnel on hand to discuss the ship itself and the equipment onboard including a Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor transport, Bell UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter (the latest variant of the venerable Huey), Bell AH-1Z Viper gunship (developed from the AH-1W SuperCobra), M1A1 Abrams tank, LAV-25 Armoured Fighting Vehicle, numerous trucks, vehicles and weapons systems galore!
USS Somerset has been named in honour of those lost aboard the United Airlines Flight 93 Boeing 757 during the September 11 attacks in 2001. A number of brave passengers worked together to prevent the hijackers reaching its planned target somewhere on the east coast, tragically resulting in its crash and loss of all onboard near Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania (the terrorists had breached the cockpit and overpowered the flight crew). Memorial signs and flags can be seen aboard the ship as a mark of respect to those lost. Steel from a crane located near the crash site has also been used to construct part of the ship as an additional memorial to the incident.
Fitted with state of the art electronic systems, USS Somerset is designed to minimise radar signature and features Radar Cross Section (RCS) reduction techniques to make it more difficult to locate and target. Fitted with advanced radar systems, defensively it is armed with Electronic Counter Measures (ECM), 2 × Bushmaster II 30 mm close-in-guns, 2 x RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) launchers with infra-red missiles as a point defence weapon for targeting anti-ship cruise missiles, 2 x Mk 41 eight-cell VLS for quad-packed RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) surface to air missiles and several twin M2 Browning machine gun turrets.
The ship can carry up to 4 MV-22 Osprey aircraft (3 on the flight deck and 1 in the hangar) or other combinations of tilt-rotor/ helicopters as required. The Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey onboard is from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (VMM-163) “Ridge Runners” and it sports “Evil Eyes” on the nose which date back to the squadrons helicopter operations as HMM-163 in the Vietnam War when the eyes were applied to target Asian culture and beliefs and inflict an unsettling effect upon the enemy! The Bell UH-1Y Venom and Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopters assigned to this squadron also wear “Evil Eyes“. They all look pretty cool in a sinister sort of way!
For non aircraft related activity the USS Somerset can carry either 2 Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercrafts or 1 Landing Craft Utility (LCU) boat within its internal docking bay. Doors at the rear of the ship enable water to enter the bay for these craft to leave and enter. The cargo area can accommodate up to 14 Assault Amphibious Vehicles or the required combination of tanks, armoured vehicles, Humvees, Growler jeeps (one of these light vehicles can be carried in the MV-22 Osprey), trucks etc. to deliver what ever the USMC needs for offensive, defensive or humanitarian operations.
With a crew of 361 officers and enlisted men plus a landing force of up to 700 marines and all their equipment, it is an impressive ship indeed. I not only want to thank the crew and Marines aboard during my visit for their service but also for taking the time to chat, have a laugh and discuss their helicopters, the Osprey and vehicles plus demonstrate the use of weapons and equipment. I had a great time!