Asia Defense

US Sends Upgraded Warship Capable of Operating F-35 to Japan

The amphibious assault ship will replace another forward deployed US Navy flattop of the same class in the Asia Pacific.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US Sends Upgraded Warship Capable of Operating F-35 to Japan
Credit: US Navy

The U.S. Navy will deploy one of its largest surface warships, the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, in the fall of 2017 to Japan, according to U.S. Pacific Command. The USS Wasp will replace the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, which will return to San Diego, California to undergo modernization. The USS Wasp will be part of the Seventh Fleet Forward Deployed Naval Forces and will be stationed in Sasebo, Japan.

The ship will be able to operate the U.S. Marine Corps’ variant of the supersonic fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. (As I explained elsewhere, the F-35B variant is capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher, thanks to a lift fan and a directed thruster.)

USS Wasp has been recently modernized to accommodate the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35B), which is capable of Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL), enabling it to operate out of a wide range of bases, both afloat and a shore,” the October 24 U.S. Navy press release states.

The U.S. Marine Corps will dispatch its first squadron of 16  F-35B aircraft to Japan in the fall of 2017. “The first [F-35B] deployment on an [amphibious ready group] will be out in WestPac (Western Pacific) on the 31st MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) in the fall of ’17,” U.S. Marine Corps Major General Michael Rocco told USNI News in May. “We’ll get the squadron out there, a 10-plane squadron, in January 2017. We’ll put six more aircraft out there in the summer of ’17 and then in the fall of ’17 is when the ship will be ready.”

Next to a modified flight deck to accommodate the F-35B, the USS Wasp also boosts an upgraded combat system. “Wasp has also received upgrades to the combat systems suite to include upgrades to MK 2 Ship Self Defense System, SPQ-9B horizon search radar, MK 57 NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System, and upgrades to the shipboard local area network (LAN) and data link capability,” according to the U.S. Navy.

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U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jump jets aboard the USS Wasp have until recently been conducting strikes against the Islamic State group in Libya. The amphibious assault ship was withdrawn from its deployment off the Libyan coast on October 21. The 40,000-ton USS Wasp is the lead ship of her class.

The ship has a crew of over 1,000 officers and sailors and can embark around 2,200 Marines, smaller amphibious assault crafts, and around 31 aircraft including MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters, AH-1Z Viper helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.