On Friday, the U.S. Navy announced that it will rotate USS Wasp, the lead ship of the Wasp-class of amphibious assault ships, and USS Stethem, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, out of the Indo-Pacific, ending the two vessels’ forward-deployment to Japan.
USS Stethem will return to San Diego to undergo what U.S. Naval Forces Japan Public Affairs described as “midlife modernization.” USS Wasp, meanwhile, will head to Norfolk for scheduled maintenance.
At the same time, the U.S. Navy announced that it will forward-deploy USS America, an America-class amphibious assault ship, and USS New Orleans, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock to Japan. Both vessels will join the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet out of Sasebo, Japan.
Like USS Wasp, USS America is capable of operating the U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B, the short take-off variant of the fifth-generation fighter. Both vessels are the size of aircraft carriers operated by many other countries, albeit much smaller than the U.S. Navy’s own Nimitz-class and planned Ford-class supercarriers.
“The security environment in the Indo-Pacific requires that the U.S. Navy station the most capable ships forward,” Naval Forces Japan noted in a statement. “This posture allows the most rapid response times possible for maritime and joint forces, and brings our most capable ships with the greatest amount of striking power and operational capability to bear in the timeliest manner.”
USS Wasp arrived in Japan from Norfolk in January 2018, replacing USS Bonhomme Richard. Beginning in August, the Wasp led a strike group alongside USS Ashland, a landing dock ship, to conduct a patrol of the western Pacific. Most recently, the Wasp also traveled for allied exercises in the South China Sea.
USS Stethem conducted a freedom of navigation operation near a China-occupied artificial island in the Spratly Islands in July 2017. USS Stethem also conducted a transit of the Taiwan Strait in February 2019 accompanied by supply ship USNS Cesar Chavez.
USS America had deployed to the Indo-Pacific from July 2017 to February 2018. As The Diplomat previously reported, USS America was joined by “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), an expeditionary quick reaction force, comprise around 1,800 sailors and 2,600 marines.”
The America-class, in addition to operating the F-35B, can also support MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, UH-1Y Huey helicopters, and CH-54 Super Stallion helicopters. Currently, the America-class is capable of supporting nine F-35Bs.