The lead vessel of the U.S. Navy’s newest class of amphibious assault ships, the USS America, completed a live-fire exercise by successfully destroying an unnamed aerial vehicle (UAV) using the ship’s self-defense Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) system, according to a U.S. Navy press release. The exercise took place off the California coast in early April.
RAM is a supersonic, lightweight, quick-reaction, fire-and-forget weapon system designed to defend against anti-ship missiles and other incoming aerial threats. With a maximum range of 5.6 miles, the RAM (so named because the missile spins around its long axis), is launched from Mk 144 Guided Missile Launcher (GML) of the Mk 49 Guided Missile Launching System (GMLS), which holds 21 missiles.
The RAM live-fire exercise was part of so-called Amphibious Squadron/Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration operations to prepare the 1,000 sailors and 1,600 Marines currently on board the ship for the USS America’s maiden deployment later in the year.
“The purpose of this exercise was to test the capabilities of the combat systems on board and to ensure they were fully operational,” according to a sailor currently serving aboard the America, designated Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) 6. “The exercise consisted of targeting our RAM to a drone strategically placed in the Pacific Ocean.”
America-class ships are aircraft carriers in all but name, as I explained in a previous piece:
America-class amphibious assault ships are 844 feet (257 meters) long with a 106-foot (32 meters) beam and weigh approximately 44,000 tons. The lead ship of the class is armed with 12 defensive weapons systems including two rolling aircraft missile RIM-116 Mk 49 l launchers; two Raytheon 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts; and seven twin .50 cal. machine guns.
Next to a maximum crew of 1,204 and 1,800 Marines (plus equipment), the USS America can accommodate up to nine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, four AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters, four CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, 12 MV-22 Ospreys, and two MH-60S Search and Rescue helicopters. The large number of modern military aircraft, provides the ship with firepower on par with some medium-sized aircraft carriers of other navies.
The U.S. Navy also refers to the warship as an “aviation centric amphibious assault ship.” The core of the America-class’ strike capability will be the F-35B, which is slated to replace three U.S. Marine Corps aircraft: the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, and the EA-6B Prowler. The F-35B is the U.S. Marine Corps variant capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher.
The U.S. Navy plans to commission 11 America-class ships in the coming years as it slowly phases out the older Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships.