Tag Archives: USS America (LHA 6)

Fab Flattop Five! 365K tons of Good Times

What do you get when you take two 105,000-ton supercarriers, add two chunky 42,000-ton Goula-built LHD/LHAs, and a 20,000-ton Japanese “helicopter destroyer” along with their five principal surface warfare escorts in one big photo-ex? 

This: 

PHILIPPINE SEA (Jan. 22, 2022) Aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 and CVW 9 fly over the Philippine Sea, Jan. 22, 2022. Operating as part of U.S. Pacific Fleet, units assigned to the Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Groups, Essex and America Amphibious Ready Groups, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force are conducting training to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Haydn N. Smith)

PHILIPPINE SEA (Jan. 22, 2022) Aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, CVW 9, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) fly over the Philippine Sea as Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), JMSDF Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181), America-class amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), Wasp-class landing helicopter dock USS Essex (LHD 2), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance (DDG 111), USS Chafe (DDG 90), and USS Gridley (DDG 101) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) transit the Philippine Sea Jan. 22, 2022.

“Operating as part of U.S. Pacific Fleet, units assigned to Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Groups, America and Essex Amphibious Ready Groups alongside Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, are conducting training to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

(U.S. Navy video)

The Queen Waves Goodbye to her most Powerful Consort

How’s this for a great photo-ex? Triple flattops.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, USS Carl Vinson, and JMSDF Izumo-class helicopter destroyer JS Kaga transiting in formation with an airborne flypast comprising (left to right): F-35B (617 Sqn), F-35C (VFA-147), F/A-18E Super Hornet (VFA-192), E/A-18G Growler (VAQ-136), E-2D Hawkeye (VAW-113), F/A-18F (VFA-2), F/A-18E (VFA-113), F-35C (VFA-147) and F-35B (USMC VMFA-211). In the background, the eagle-eyed will see pair of Sea Hawk helicopters.

One of the most unsung members of the UK Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21), formed for the inaugural deployment of the largest British aircraft carrier in history, has been the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68). While a 24-year-old Flight I Burke, Sully’s Aegis suite and SM-2 missiles are still much more effective against high-end threats than the other two air-defense escorts of the task force, the Type 45 destroyers HMS Diamond (D34) and HMS Defender (D36)— which are reportedly plagued by “technical issues” as a class.

Sailing from her DESRON 28 homeport at Mayport on 19 April 2020, bound for the United Kingdom in order to join the British carrier strike group for deployment, Sully finally broke away from CSG21 on 20 October 2021, headed home after some 18 months on loan to the RN.

RN photo

“Thank you and fair winds,” noted First Sea Lord, ADM Tony Radakin.

Of course, and somewhat ironically, Sully is named for a five-pack of tough Irish-American brothers. Who better to escort the Queen?

The Sullivan brothers on board USS Juneau Joe, Frank, Al, Matt, and George. NH 52362

British, American, and Japanese flattops at play

As part of Exercise Noble Union/Large Scale Global Exercise (LSGE), units of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, U.S. Navy’s America Expeditionary Strike Group (with the 31st MEU aboard), and the Royal Navy’s CSG21 task group have been operating together this week.

Notably, this put the 65,000-ton British carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), the 45,000-ton Lightning carrier/gator USS America (LHA-6), and the 19,000-ton Hyūga-class “helicopter destroyer” JS Ise (DDH-182) side-by-side.

Both HMSQE and America have F-35s on deck, while Ise is sticking with rotary-wing assets, although it is theorized that she and her sister Hyuga could someday operate the little 5th Gen fighter. (Royal Navy photo)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aron Montano, 210824-N-BG089-0596)

Of interest, RN FAA Merlin helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron cross-decked from HMSQE to America during the exercise, as did Marine F-35s of VMFA-211, a historic moment for each type and class.

Half a Deck

Here we see a good overhead shot of a modern Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) ship, essentially a straight-decked aircraft carrier (USS America does not have a well deck) with berthing for 1,687 embarked Marines.

CORAL SEA (July 27, 2021) The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) conducts a fueling-at-sea with Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Ballarat (FFH 155) during Exercise Talisman Sabre 21. Australian and U.S. Forces combine biennially for Talisman Sabre, a month-long multi-domain exercise that strengthens allied and partner capabilities to respond to the full range of Indo-Pacific security concerns. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Cavenaile)

Note she has nine MV-22B Ospreys, five F-35B Lightnings, three CH-53E Super Stallions (soon to be replaced by CH-53K King Stallions), and a pair of MH-60 Knighthawk/Seahawks parked on her deck well forward of the island while both of her elevators and five vertical landing spots are open. Out of sight but surely nearby are a handful of UH-1Y Venom liaison helicopters and AH-1Z Viper gunships.

The aircraft shown can put 400~ Marines ashore 180 miles away (unrefueled) in a single lift while the fighters run a CAP and the Seahawks prowl for surface contacts and mines. Keep in mind that the MEUs of old were hamstrung by shorter-range CH-46D/Es and CH-53Ds while strike was left to Harriers.

With a deck that greatly resembles the old WWII Essex-class fleet carriers, America is a stepping stone between the five Tarawa-class LHAs of the 1970s, eight follow-on Wasp-class LHDs, and the next-gen of big-deck ‘phibs that will hit the fleet when USS Bougainville (LHA-8) commissions in 2024. Unlike America and her sister USS Tripoli (LHA-7), Bougainville will have an AN/SPY-6 phased array volume air search radar, a small well deck, and be built from the keel up with F-35s and MV-22s in mind whereas LHA 6/7 had to be retrofitted.

Talisman Sabre Photoex

Talk about a great shot. The ships of the forward-deployed USS America (LHA 6) Expeditionary Strike Group steam in formation during Talisman Sabre (TS) 21 in conjunction with warships from Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. In all, you have three ‘Phibs, six escorts, and two auxiliaries with a battalion of Marines and a half-squadron of F-35s along for the ride. 

The place? The Coral Sea. What a difference 80 years makes, right?

CORAL SEA (July 22, 2021) (From left) USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204), ROKS Wand Geon (DD 978), HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154), USS America (LHA 6), USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115), USS JS Makinami (DD 112), USNS Alan Shepard (T-AKE 3), (center) HMCS Calgary (FFH 335), (back) USS New Orleans (LPD 18), HMAS Brisbane (D 41), and USS Germantown (LSD 42) steam in formation during Talisman Sabre (TS) 21. This is the ninth iteration of Talisman Sabre, a large-scale, bilateral military exercise between Australia and the U.S. involving more than 17,000 participants from seven nations. The month-long multi-domain exercise consists of a series of training events that reinforce the strong U.S./Australian alliance and demonstrate the U.S. military’s unwavering commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Serianni)

And the breakaway.

CORAL SEA (July 22, 2021) (From left) USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204), ROKS Wand Geon (DD 978), HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154), USS America (LHA 6), USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115), USS JS Makinami (DD 112), USNS Alan Shepard (T-AKE 3), (center) HMCS Calgary (FFH 335), (back) USS New Orleans (LPD 18), HMAS Brisbane (D 41), and USS Germantown (LSD 42) break from formation steaming during Talisman Sabre (TS) 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Serianni

For the record, the America ESG has the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked. The 31st MEU currently comprises the F-35B-augmented Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced) as the ACE, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines as the GCE, and Combat Logistics Battalion 31 as the LCE. 

It Only Took the Royal Navy 37 Years to Come Full Circle

Once upon a time: HMS Ark Royal (R09) loaded with F-4 Phantoms and Buccaneers. 

The country that in 1918 designed the first ocean-going aircraft carrier retired their last “big deck” flattop, the 53,000-ton HMS Ark Royal (R09) in 1979, taking the ability to support (F-4) Phantom FG.1s and Buccaneer S.2 bombers with her.

27 November 1978: 892 NAS Phantom XT870/012- last fixed-wing catapult launch from HMS Ark Royal took place at 15.11 that day, flown by an RAF crew of Flt Lt Murdo MacLeod and Deputy Air Engineer (RIO) Lt D McCallum in the back seat (pictured).

The replacement for Ark Royal was to be the 22,000-ton “through deck destroyer” HMS Invincible, capable of fielding a small force of about a dozen helicopters or so and V/STOL Sea Harriers. A mid-sized (28,000-ton) 1950s-era Centaur-class carrier, HMS Hermes (R12), was to be kept around for a minute for use as a “commando carrier,” akin to an LPH in the U.S. Navy.

Then came the Falklands War, and with Ark Royal long gone and Invincible only able to carry a handful of aircraft, the aging Hermes was stacked with an impressive 26 Harriers (to include 10 RAF GR.3 ground-based variants) and 10 Sea Kings. Retired in 1983, she was sold to India two years later– a country that loved Hermes intently as INS Viraat until she was sent to the breakers this very month.

Since 1984, the UK had to make do with the postage-stamp-sized “Harrier Carriers” of the expanded Invincible-class, which were maxed out at 8 Sea Harriers and 12 helicopters although they typically carried far less. By 2014, even those vessels were gone.

However, last week the new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth put to sea with the largest single air wing any British ship has carried since Hermes was put to pasture in 1983: 14 F-35B Lightning (reportedly “the largest air group of fifth-generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world”) and eight Merlin HM2 (“Grey Merlin”) ASW helicopters– two of which are “baggers” carrying experimental Crowsnest AEW radar sets.

The F-35s come from the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), while the Merlins come from 824 NAS of the Fleet Air Arm– truly a joint wing with Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and USMC elements.

Of note, a QE-class carrier has deck and hangar space for as many as 45 F-35s. So one day they may reach 1979 levels of seapower again…

Ersatz carrier, you are here

A joint US Navy/Marine Corps “Proof of Concept” demonstration held off the coast of Southern California Nov. 18-20 put the largest force of F-35B Lightning II stealth STOVL strike fighters ever assembled at sea together by placing a full dozen planes from the “Wake Island Avengers” of VMFA-211,  fleshed out by VX-23 and VMX-1 from Patuxent; along with a few MV-22B, AH-1Z and UH-1Ys aboard the USS America (LHA-6).

The F-35B Lightning II third developmental test phase (DT-III) evaluated the full spectrum of joint strike fighter measures of suitability and effectiveness in an at-sea environment.

161115-N-N0101-012 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 14, 2016) Ordnance is prepared for an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft on the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). This event marked the first live ordnance uploaded to the F-35B at sea.During the third and final F-35B developmental test phase (DT-III), the aircraft is undergoing envelope expansion via a series of launches and recoveries in various operating conditions such as high sea states and high winds. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)

161115-N-N0101-012 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 14, 2016) Ordnance is prepared for an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft on the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). This event marked the first live ordnance uploaded to the F-35B at sea.During the third and final F-35B developmental test phase (DT-III), the aircraft is undergoing envelope expansion via a series of launches and recoveries in various operating conditions such as high sea states and high winds. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)

In preparation of DT-III load testing, America‘s Weapons Department assembled two types of smart bombs. The team assembled 72 laser-guided Guide Bomb Units (GBU) 12 and 40 satellite-guided GBU-32s for the first time in the ship’s short history.

America, the ultimate evolution of the 1970s Tarawa-class LHAs and 1980s LHD designs, looks a lot like an Essex-class fleet carrier from WWII. In fact, they are the same rough size (45,000-tons/844-feet for LHA vs. 36,380-tons/872-feet for CV) though the old school flattops were much faster, carried an immense array of topside armament, and could squeeze 100~ piston engine planes on their deck.

However, a dozen or so F-35Bs with 5th Generation carrier-strike capabilities, when the bugs are worked out, should prove much more capable than a few squadrons of Corsairs or Hellcats.

Also, there is always the prospect of adding a second squadron aboard, giving an LHA a full 24 aircraft, which isn’t too far-fetched, after all, it should be remembered that 20 AV-8Bs of VMA-331 operated from USS Nassau (LHA-4) in support of Operation Desert Storm, flying 240 combat sorties and dropping 900 bombs. Sure, the F-35 is heavier than the Harrier, but LHA-6 is optimized for aviation operations, whereas Nassau was not.

Such an ersatz carrier group, augmented by a few DDG/CG assets to screen it, could fill several expeditionary contingencies short of all-out war. For instance, recent limited air operations off Libya, non-combatant evacuation operations offshore of a country with a deteriorating security situation, keeping sea lanes open against an asymmetric threat, or enforcing a naval quarantine.

Besides the meaning for U.S. carrier forces, being able to add some LHAs as mini-flattops in a pinch, this month’s trials with a dozen F-35s at sea shows the Brits what they have to look forward to. Though the beautiful 70,000-ton HMS Queen Elizabeth is to commission next year, the RN Fleet Air Arm has no real fixed wing assets to put aboard her at this time.

Queen Elizabeth is capable of carrying up to 36 F-35s in her hangars, and while the current plan is for the carriers to deploy with an air wing of just 12 jets, this may take a while to pull off. The Brits, who intend to ultimately have as many as 138 joint RAF/RN F-35s, will only have their first operational squadron in late 2018 and just 24 operational frames in inventory in 2023. Indeed, USMC F-35Bs are expected to deploy on QE until the UK gets theirs fully fleshed out.

And the gentlemen from the UK were on-hand on America this week.

“As we all know, we can’t choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds,” said Royal air force (RAF) Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, an F-35 test pilot embedded at the Pax River ITF. “The last couple of days we went and purposely found those nasty conditions and put the jets through those places, and the jet handled fantastically well. So now the external weapons testing should be able to give the fleet a clearance to carry weapons with the rough seas and rough conditions. We know the jet can handle it. A fleet clearance will come — then they can go forth and conduct battle in whatever environment.”

In the meantime, in 2017, an up-gunned Expeditionary Strike Group consisting of a three-DDG strong surface action group and a more traditional three-ship Amphibious Ready Group centered around USS Wasp (LHD-1) with an LPD and LSD in tow, will deploy with a squadron of Marine F-35Bs. 

Welcome to the new Navy.

PACIFIC OCEAN -- An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of USS America (LHA 6) during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration, November 19, 2016. The demonstration is the first shipboard Marine Corps F-35B integration demonstration alongside other Marine Corps Air Combat Element assets. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Thor Larson/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN — An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of USS America (LHA 6) during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration, November 19, 2016. The demonstration is the first shipboard Marine Corps F-35B integration demonstration alongside other Marine Corps Air Combat Element assets. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Thor Larson/Released)

161120-N-VT045-0001 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 19, 2016) Four F-35B Lightning II aircraft perform a flyover above the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration.  The F-35B will eventually replace three  Marine Corps aircraft; the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler. (U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe/Released)

161120-N-VT045-0001 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 19, 2016) Four F-35B Lightning II aircraft perform a flyover above the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration. The F-35B will eventually replace three Marine Corps aircraft; the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler. (U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe/Released)