An amphibious assault ship (also referred to as a commando carrier or an amphibious assault carrier) is a type of amphibious warfare ship employed to land and support ground forces on enemy territory by an amphibious assault. The design evolved from aircraft carriers converted for use as helicopter carriers, but includes support for amphibious landing craft, with most designs including a well deck, the common large flight deck design coming full circle some amphibious assault ships now have a secondary role as aircraft carriers.
The role of the amphibious assault ship is fundamentally different from a standard aircraft carrier: its aviation facilities have the primary role of hosting helicopters to support forces ashore rather than to support strike aircraft. However, some are capable of serving in the sea-control role, embarking aircraft like Harrier fighters for CAP and ASW helicopters or operating as a safe base for large numbers of STOVL fighters conducting air support for the MEU once it has gone ashore. Most of these ships can also carry or support landing craft, such as air-cushioned landing craft (hovercraft) or LCUs.
The largest fleet of these types is operated by the United States Navy, including the Tarawa class dating back to the 1970s and the larger Wasp class ships that debuted in 1989. Amphibious assault ships are also operated by the British Royal Navy, the French Navy, the Italian Navy, the Republic of Korea Navy, and the Spanish Navy.
USS Essex (LHD-2) is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship built at what is now Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and commissioned on 17 October 1992 while moored at North Island NAS beside the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). It is the fifth ship named for Essex County, Massachusetts. Dick Cheney, then the Secretary of Defense in the first Bush Administration, spoke at the commissioning ceremony. Essex served as the command ship for Expeditionary Strike Group Seven until replaced by the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on 23 April 2012. The Essex collided with USNS Yukon (T-AO-202) in May 2012.