According to Grace Jean, IHS Jane’s correspondent, after a successful two-month maiden transit around South America to its homeport in California, the U.S. Navy’s new amphibious assault ship, USS America (LHA-6), is conducting tests and training for final contract trials ahead of its post-delivery availability.
When the U.S. Navy’s (USN’s) latest amphibious assault ship, USS America (LHA-6), departs on its maiden deployment in 2017, its flight deck will be capable of operating the newest aircraft flown by the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC): the F-35B Lightning II Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Commissioned in late 2014, the lead ship of the USN’s newest class of ‘large deck’ amphibious platforms is completing a period of testing and trials in the Pacific off the coast of California, where it is based. Following final contract trials, the 257.3 m-long America will enter its post-delivery availability, during which its flight deck is expected to be upgraded with coatings and other systems meant to help the ship better cope with F-35B operations. The ship can transport up to 28 MV-22s with their wings folded, but the total number accommodated drops to 24 when MV-22 flight operations are conducted. An initial America-class air wing could consist of 12 MV-22s and 12 F-35Bs to provide both strike and assault capability.
In late February 2015 USS America (LHA-6) was under way in the Pacific off the coast of southern California conducting tests and training evolutions in preparation for its final contract trials, expected to take place later in the year. By early March the ship had accomplished another milestone on its path to becoming fully operational: having Harriers land on its flight deck for the first time, helping America become fully certified for air operations.
Only one year earlier the ship was being prepared for delivery out of Ingalls. During a shipboard tour there in May 2014, America ‘s commanding officer, Captain Robert Hall Jr, told IHS Jane’s that the ship would embark a flag staff, a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) of around 300 marines, 4 MV-22s, and 3 MH-60 helicopters for its maiden transit to the western U.S. coast for commissioning, later adding that 4 CH-46 helicopters would also be added to the mix.
Normally a new USN ship transits from shipyard to homeport and commissioning without fanfare, so America ‘s arrangement to embark marine personnel and aircraft for a bespoke assignment around a continent was unique. «Having this type of force embarked was completely unprecedented for a pre-commissioned ship’s first underway, but was instrumental to our ability to showcase the strength and capability of our Navy/Marine Corps team and to facilitate relationship building with our important partners in South America», Captain Hall told IHS Jane’s in March 2015.
In July 2014 USS America (LHA-6) journeyed around South America, making port calls at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Colombia. «During the deployment we visited and hosted senior-level military and civilian distinguished visitors from Cartagena, Colombia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Valparaiso, Chile; and Callao, Peru», Captain Robert Hall said.
«We also flew out distinguished visitors from Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and El Salvador for key leadership engagements on board and we had the rare opportunity to transit through the Strait of Magellan. All in all, an amazing voyage and the ship performed incredibly well». Embarking marines was part of the USN’s plan to begin training and integration with the sister service early as well as developing operational concepts for the America-class as a whole.
«They integrated seamlessly and provided my crew of mostly first-term sailors with the early opportunity to experience amphibious operations and learn the importance of operating as a team at sea», Captain Hall said. «Having the MV-22 Ospreys on board was a huge bonus for us when performing a number of important roles. Although their primary mission was long-range insertion of marines to conduct theatre security co-operation engagements in Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Peru, they were also important to our logistics support, flight deck crew training, and for transporting distinguished visitors out to the ship – and they offered a pretty impressive backdrop during all of our shipboard receptions and four international press conferences». (Source: IHS Jane’s Defence Industry and Markets Intelligence Centre)
|Builder||Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., Ingalls Operations, Pascagoula, Mississippi|
|Date Deployed||Delivered to the fleet in on April 10, 2014|
|Propulsion||Two marine gas turbines, two shafts, 70,000 total brake horsepower/52,199 kW, two 5,000 horsepower/3,728 kW auxiliary propulsion motors|
|Length||844 feet/257.3 m|
|Beam||106 feet/32.3 m|
|Displacement||Approximately 43,745 long tons full load/44,449 metric tons|
|Speed||20+ knots/23+ mph/37+ km/h|
|Crew||1,059 (65 officers)|
|Load||1,687 troops (plus 184 surge)|
|Armament||2 RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) launchers|
|2 NATO Sea Sparrow launchers with ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile)|
|2 20-mm Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapon System) mounts|
|7 twin 12,7-mm/.50 cal. machine guns|
|Aircraft||9 F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) STOVL (Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing) aircraft|
|4 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters|
|4 CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters|
|12 MV-22B Osprey VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) tiltrotors|
|2 MH-60S Sea Hawk Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters|
|UH-1Y Huey helicopters|
|Ships||USS America (LHA-6); San Diego, California; Commissioned: October 11, 2014|
|PCU* Tripoli (LHA-7); No homeport; under construction|
* Pre-Commissioning Unit