Article from A&B issue 11|2022
Today we will visit a multi-town that I have been dreaming about all my life. This will be a unique tour, a story unlike any we've seen before about the multi-towns, larger and smaller agglomerations we've traversed together.
After so many places I've explored so far, I felt it was time to step away from the ordinary, everyday urban reality. It was time to break the pattern, to change the rhythm. To look where few people look.
This city has a population of 250,000. It is designed differently from the cities we live in. It has different priorities than an ordinary housing estate. Although it meets all the functional requirements that a liveable city should meet, it is the most OTHER of all human settlements on the planet. Its most important feature is that it is mobile. Or, more precisely, floating. Its name is the U.S. Navy.
A strike aircraft carrier never sails alone; with cover and support ships, the team's population often exceeds 10,000 residents
© U.S. Navy
The floating city is huge. It is made up of nearly 300 human habitats, inhabited by that number of mobile ship-buildings. In addition to more than a hundred smaller vessels, it is made up of 60 destroyers, 72 nuclear submarines, 22 missile cruisers, nine universal landing ships so-called LHDs and 11 strike aircraft carriers. We will focus attention today on the latter two types of vessels, as the most spectacular, with the broadest urban offerings to the most populous communities of their inhabitants. But we'll also mention the rest of the floating infrastructure, as the city's U.S. Navy also has landing ships and even commemorative battleships.
LHD is short for landing helicopter dock, a fascinating ship: it's a hybrid of a mobile airport and a floating seaport. To simplify: upstairs is an airfield with a 250-meter-long runway, and downstairs is a lockable and flooded dock that harbors landing barges and hovercraft. An LHD-type ship (currently in service, it's mostly WASP class) can be home to more than 3,000 people, of which more than a thousand are the ship's crew, and nearly two thousand are Marine Corps landing and air crew.
The LHD in Polish could be called a landing carrier, with the possibility of being a light aircraft carrier, landing ship, mobile logistics base and so on, depending on the configuration and need of the moment. In telegraphic terms, it is a ship whose main task is the ability to independently carry out a landing of 2,000 fully equipped troops with heavy equipment along with comprehensive air support. Anywhere in the world.
The LHD type is primarily a landing craft; by air, passengers will be taken by Osprey aircraft similar to those in the movie "Avatar"
© U.S. Navy
Between the airfield at the top and the seaport at the plunge line level, there are numerous floors housing the entire city needed for these thousands of people to function normally. There are as many as fourteen such floors on the LHD. Fourteen floors on the water is quite a lot.
In addition to the numerous sleeping quarters below the deck of the LHD, there are huge aircraft hangars, decks housing a fleet of combat vehicles, tanks, armored vehicles, all-terrain vehicles. There's a huge laundry, a hospital, kitchens, dining rooms, repair shops, a multi-faith chapel, a movie theater, gyms, a library, there's even a Starbucks coffee shop, or rather a clone of the brand serving coffee, invented specifically for the U.S. Navy's big ships.
The crew are people like us, they laugh, they "sit on smartphones."
photo: Matthew Zmyślony
The port, or dock, measures 81 meters by 15 meters and is 8.5 meters high. It's hard to say what's more impressive here: the airport or the port section. On the airfield tarmac you can walk among dozens of helicopters of various types, and there are usually Sea Harrier jets of the latest variety, gradually being replaced by F-35 seaplanes. Perhaps the most interesting equipment on board is the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey variable rotor transport aircraft. They fly twice as fast as most helicopters and can take off and land vertically (or from a short run-up), taking 24 landing troops aboard.
Takeoff from the deck of a strike aircraft carrier is assisted by catapults - in a new generation of electromagnetic
© U.S. Navy
Frankly, the sight of the LHD-type ship in action with Ospreys taking off from it and hovercraft and landing barges coming out of the open stern, full of armored vehicles, covered by a cloud of fighter jets and attack helicopters is reminiscent of scenes from the movie "Avatar."
This amazing steel installation is certainly impressive as a menacing war machine. But it is also beautiful in its own way, although designers of military equipment have somewhat different priorities than civilian designers or land architects. By force here, every component is primarily intended to work in combat conditions. But that doesn't change the fact that the whole thing must also be a comfortable home for thousands of people, and a home where a lot of time is spent - the voyage of such a ship usually lasts many months.
The USS Kearsarge moored in port as seen from the front.
© U.S. Navy
A close relative of the LHD, the world's largest warship, the strike aircraft carrier, spends even longer at sea. The WASP class is conventionally powered and smaller - the idea being that LHDs can fit in the Panama Canal. That's why their massive aerial elevators, which extend beyond the hull's outline and have a lifting capacity of more than 30 tons each - are collapsible. These limitations, however, do not apply to strike aircraft carriers. These are extremely large, nuclear-powered, their range is unlimited, they are fully autonomous and can cruise the seas and oceans for years - without calling at a port, with all supplies delivered by sea and air.
Such an aircraft carrier is, ladies and gentlemen, something absolutely amazing. The newest one - the USS Gerald Ford - is 333 meters long, 78 meters wide and has a crew of more than 4,500. About a hundred different types of aircraft and helicopters operate from the launch deck; the number varies, but the combat value of such a ship is comparable to the aviation power of a medium-sized land state. If one were to put this ship upright, it would be more than 100 meters taller than the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.
The USS Kearsarge, on the stern, is conspicuous by its opening ramp: this is where the naval landing crafts go out
photo: Mateusz Zmyślony
If we add to this that all this great mass (100,000 tons) can be accelerated up to 30 knots (on the water it's very, very fast), and at the same time dozens of planes take off and land from the launch deck at an incredible rate - we see something much more significant than simply a structure created by engineers. This is a marvel of engineering, a majestic piece of machinery that should not be judged from a purely military perspective. These great ships de facto watch over our entire world to ensure that it runs as smoothly as possible and in accordance with certain generally accepted principles.
defenders of freedom guard the order of this world
© U.S. Navy
It is a well-known thesis that the world is ruled by he who rules the oceans. From this perspective, we live in a time of domination by one country - the United States of America. In short - the floating city of the U.S. Navy rules the planet Earth. And for some time to come, this will certainly continue to be the case. We owe global order to this city. Local conflicts happen, wars break out, epidemics sweep through, natural disasters occur in places - but there are tens and hundreds of thousands of smaller and larger commercial and passenger ships constantly circling the seas and oceans, carrying most of the world's industrial production and creating the international economy. This one is regulated according to certain common standards, regulations and rules, which are generally followed by (almost) everyone on the planet. From this point of view, aircraft carriers and landing ships are not killing machines - on the contrary. Thanks to them, life flourishes and goes on in relative peace. On the seas, order prevails on a daily basis, only rarely disturbed by, for example, Somali pirates.
The USS Kearsarge on this mission visits Baltic ports so that we can sleep more peacefully
© U.S. Navy
One can admire these large ships for their impressive size or incredible capabilities. However, I personally like them precisely as floating cities, with all the wonderful logistics necessary to keep them running smoothly and the crews fit, fit and smiling.
They are colossi that are hard to fathom by imagination - thanks to them, there is no chaos on the seas and oceans
© U.S. Navy
It was the urban nature of these beautiful ships that pushed me many years ago to San Francisco for U.S. Navy Fleet Week - the fleet's largest annual event, held in the bay waters around the famous Alcatraz Island. Then I missed my aircraft carrier, as war broke out and the accreditation I had managed to get turned out to be worthless. The USS Enterprise sailed off to the Indian Ocean and our reunion never happened.
Aircraft carriers are the ultimate in teamwork
© U.S. Navy
But what goes around comes around. That's why when I saw the news about the visit to Poland of the USS Kearsarge, one of eight WASP-class LHD ships in service, I didn't wait a second. "Muhammad did not come to the mountain, the mountain came to Muhammad," I thought.