The United States and Japan conducted a one-day naval exercise on January 13 in the East China Sea.
The exercise involved 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, and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Oosumi-class amphibious transport dock ship JS Kunisaki, home-ported at Kure Naval Base in Hiroshima.
During the training exercise, the two ships conducted communication and maneuvering drills, personnel exchanges, and a flight operations demonstration of a F-35B, 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, according to a U.S. Navy press release.
“We are extremely pleased with this first opportunity for USS America to operate side-by-side with our JMSDF allies,” Rear Admiral Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, said in a U.S. Navy statement. “This exercise allows us to build on our already strong relationship and helps to underscore our commitment to this incredibly important partnership and region.”
During the January 13 exercise, JMSDF Rear Admiral Shirane Tsutomu, the commander of the JMSDF Mine Warfare Force, came aboard USS America where he familiarized himself with the capabilities of the America-class amphibious assault ship.
The bilateral training exercise was the first for the USS America, the flagship of an expeditionary strike group, since it arrived on December 6 at its new homeport Sasebo, Japan 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.
The flattop serves as the flagship of Task Force 76, which includes all of the 7th Fleet amphibious forces. The USS America forms the core of U.S. Navy’s Amphibious Squadron 11, part of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, which includes the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18). The USS America squadron is paired with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
The USS America is an aviation-focused flattop built with increased space for jet fuel and aircraft equipment. The warship was developed without a well deck that floods to launch landing craft. As I reported previously:
[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 U.S. Navy plans to operate a fleet of 11 America-class amphibious assault ships by the end of the 2020s.