The lead ship of the U.S. Navy’s newest class of amphibious assault ships, the 45,000-ton USS America, designated Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) 6, will deploy to Japan in 2019 replacing the older Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, USS Wasp, as the biggest forward-deployed big deck in the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.
Like its predecessors, the USS America is expected to be homeported at the U.S. naval port of Sasebo, Japan.
“[Wasp] is coming around because of maintenance – her time in [the Forward-Deployed Naval Force] is over out in Japan, America‘s going out there. She’s coming back because of maintenance and dock loading and stuff like that,” Vice Admiral Richard Brown, the commander of Naval Surface Forces and Naval Surface Force Pacific, was quoted as saying by USNI News during a January 11 phone call with reporters.
According to the U.S. Navy’s Personnel Command’s Decommissioning and Homeport Change webpage, the transfer of the USS America to Sasebo will likely be completed by May 2019, the Military Times reported in December 2018.
This will not be the USS America’s first deployment to Asia. As I reported previously, the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) consisting of the USS America, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS San Diego, and the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor, along with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), deployed to the Pacific, Middle East, and the Horn of Africa from July 2017 to February 2018.
The USS America is an aviation-focused flattop. Unlike the USS Wasp, the flattop was designed with no well deck that floods to launch landing craft. As I noted elsewhere:
The new warship 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. The ship’s most potent weapon system, however, is the (…) fifth-generation F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). In November 2016, the U.S. Navy conducted operational testing of the F-35B aboard the ship, followed by a number of weapons load tests involving the fifth-generation fighter jet.
As I noted elsewhere, (See: “US Navy Built Largest-Ever Amphibious Assault Ship for F-35 Fighters”), the USS America, next to the F-35B, can accommodate MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, CH-53 Super Stallions, and UH-1Y Huey helicopters. In detail, an America-class amphibious assault ship can carry up to nine F-35Bs, 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 USS Wasp only replaced its sister ship USS Bonhomme Richard, as the flagship of Task Force 76, which includes all of the 7th Fleet amphibious forces, in Sasebo in early 2018.