The Navy’s new big-deck America-class amphibious assault ship is making its way around South America as part of a mission to connect with allies in the southern hemisphere and prepare the ship for the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
The USS America, the first in a series of 11 planned America class amphibs for the Navy, is configured with more deck space than previous ships of its kind in order to accommodate a range of aircraft — including MV-22 Ospreys and the F-35B Short-Take-Off-and-Landing Joint Strike Fighter.
“The Navy and the Marine Corps will have to work out the conops (concepts of operation) of how we are going to use the Joint Strike Fighter. The ship will not only be able to deliver the capability of the Joint Strike Fighter but will also be able to provide a response capability. This ship is going to surprise a lot of people with its ability to bring forward aviation assets,” Capt. Robert Hall, USS America’s Commanding Officer, told Military.com in an interview while aboard the ship.
The Navy is currently making a series of modifications to the USS Wasp, an amphib test ship, in order to better prepare amphibs to accommodate the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The modifications are in part designed to allow the ship’s deck to better withstand the heat generated by the F-35B’s vertical landing and take-off, Navy officials said.
“The JSF will be on the USS America for the first deployment. There are still some modifications that need to be done to the ship once we go to our post-shakedown availability. They are being worked through on the USS Wasp which is a test ship right now. The lessons learned are being applied to our ship,” Hall said.
The USS America will receive the same flight deck modifications currently being installed on the USS Wasp, said Lt. Kurt Larson, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command.
“The flight deck modifications entail adding intercostal structural members underneath flight deck landing spots numbers seven and nine. With the added structure, these two landing spots will provide the capability to perform closely timed cyclic flight operations with the F-35B without overstressing the flight deck,” Larson said.
The modifications are also planned for all other America and WASP-class ships in future availabilities, he added.
Hall said some of the modifications may involve re-adjusting some of the ship’s antennas in order to allow for a clear flight path for the JSF.
This flight deck modification is planned for incorporation onto the USS AMERICA in 2015 and 2016. The USS America will be commissioned in San Francisco in October of this year, Hall added.
The ship is currently transiting around off the coast of South America, conducting joint training exercises with a host of key allies such as Colombia, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Chile and Peru, Hall explained.
“This is as close to a deployment as I’ve ever been on, with the four Osprey and three H-60s that we have along with the special purpose MAGTF (Marine Corps Air-Ground Task Force),” he added.
The integrated training exercises involve security and communications operations with different countries as well as medical asset coordination and mission planning activities, Hall said.
The ship’s MV-22 Ospreys have been flying into allied countries to pick up and deliver distinguished visitors to the ship, he explained.
“We’re getting our crew familiar with the ship through hands on training. The Ospreys are giving us a great opportunity to learn the flight deck and learn the hangar. Most of my crew is on their first mission,” Hall explained. “This is a brand new crew which is pulling together. They have been performing as a solid team, going above and beyond. My hat is off to their dedication and motivation they have been working very hard.”