One of the U.S. Navy’s largest surface warships, the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, arrived at the naval port of Sasebo, Japan on January 14, replacing its sister ship USS Bonhomme Richard as the biggest forward-deployed amphibious assault ship in the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.
The 40,000-ton vessel will replace the USS Bonhomme Richard as the flagship of Task Force 76, which includes all of the 7th Fleet amphibious forces.
The USS Wasp, following modifications of its flight deck, is capable of operating the U.S. Marine Corps’ variant of the supersonic fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. F-35B fighters are expected to embark on the USS Wasp when it begins it scheduled regional patrols in the coming weeks.
“The arrival of USS Wasp represents an increase in military capability and a commitment to our partners and allies for security and stability in the region,” said Captain Colby Howard, the commander officer of the USS Wasp, according to a press statement. “Paired with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, we remain ready to execute the full range of military operations from crisis response to disaster relief.”
The amphibious assault ship, commissioned in 1989, 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 F-35Bs, AV-8B Harrier IIs, MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters, AH-1Z Viper helicopters, and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.
Next to an upgraded flight deck, the USS Wasp also features an upgraded combat system including upgrades to the MK 2 Ship Self Defense System, SPQ-9B horizon search radar, and MK 57 NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System, among other things.
The U.S. Marine Corps is operating a squadron of 16 F-35Bs at Iwakuni airbase in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. Furthermore, the U.S. Air Force has stationed 13 F-35As — the F-35’s conventional takeoff and landing variant —at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa for a six-month rotation, which began in November 2016.
The United States’ regional allies, Japan and South Korea are currently in the process of inducting their own F-35s into their respective air forces, as I explained previously:
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) took delivery of its first F-35A fighter jets this year through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program. (…) Japan’s Ministry of Defense selected the F-35A in December 2011 following the F-X competitive bidding process. (…) The JASDF is expected to induct a total of 42 new F-35As in the coming years.
Another U.S. ally, South Korea, will begin receiving its first F-35As in 2018. The South Korean government has ordered 40 F-35A aircraft with delivery expected to be completed by 2021. South Korea has been considering procuring 20 additional F-35As.
The U.S. Navy’s newest class of amphibious assault ships, the USS America, designated Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) 6, and its Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) are currently also operating in Asian waters as part of a regularly scheduled deployment to the Pacific, Middle East, and the Horn of Africa.