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, arrived in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on November 19, en route to its new homeport, the U.S. naval base of Sasebo, Japan.
The USS America departed San Diego naval base with no publicity a few days prior. The ship is 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. Once deployed, the America will be paired with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
Notably, this is not the USS America’s first deployment to the Indo-Pacific region. 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 and was built with no well deck that floods to launch landing craft. It was also built with increased space for jet fuel and aircraft equipment. The ship has been specifically designed to carry the F-35Bs, the U.S. Marine Corps variant of the supersonic fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher. The flattop is the size of a small aircraft. 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.
[T]he 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 America will be the flagship of Task Force 76, which includes all of the 7th Fleet amphibious forces. It is unclear when the ship is expected to arrive in Sasebo and whether Pearl Harbor is the only stop in the transit.