Tag Archives: Uss America

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…

Over the side. Hit the nets!

The bane of O-courses for generations, the unsung cargo net was a vital step in what these days we would call the sea–to-shore connector during World War II.

With the Navy pressing whole classes of old flush-deck destroyers as well as newer destroyer escorts into use as “Green Dragons,” a modification that saw some topside weapon systems (torpedo tubes) as well as below-deck equipment (one of the boiler rooms) deleted, these tin cans could carry a reinforced company/light battalion’s worth of Marines to earshot of a far-off Japanese-held atoll where they would load up in a series of Higgins-made plywood LCVRs to head ashore.

The easiest way to get said Marines from the tin can to the waiting fiddlestick express below? A debarkation net deployed over the side.

Troops boarding the converted destroyer USS WARD (APD-16) from an LCP(R) landing craft at Maffin Bay, New Guinea, en route to the Cape Sansapor Landings, 30 July 1944. The low freeboard of the converted “four-stacker” is a boon to amphibious operations since there is less danger of the men being pitched off the cargo nets in the short descent to rocking landing boats. 80-G-255402

Nets were also a facet of transferring troops to landing craft from attack transport (APA) ships, which were fundamentally just converted freighters or passenger liners designs with davits filled with LCVPs.

Photo of landing rehearsals in June 1943 by USS McCawley (APA-4), note the nets #80-G-254933.

The tactic was iconic enough to be captured in the maritime art of the era and was used hundreds of times.

“Amphibious Troop Movement” Painting, Oil on Canvas; by James Turnbull; 1945. “Burdened with full combat packs, assault troops clamber down a landing net into the landing craft which will debark them on the shores of Lingayen Gulf to open the battle for Luzon.” NHHC Accession #: 67-190-B

As LPDs, LSDs, LPHs (which in turn were replaced by LHAs), and LHDs phased out the old Green Dragons and APAs during the Cold War, the cargo net basically was just retained for use in swim calls and in areas with poor harbor facilities.

Now, with the concept of smaller groups of Marines operating from non-standard amphibious warfare vessels in a future warm/hot war in the Pacific, it seems the staple of 1943 could be making something of a comeback.

As noted by the 31st MEU, a recent exercise in Guam has brought the net back into play:

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, completed the debarkation net rehearsal from the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) in Apra Harbor, Naval Base Guam, harkening back to a historic method of personnel movement with a focus on safety, according to Master Sgt. Daniel Scull with Weapons Company, BLT 1/5, safety officer-in-charge for the event.

200220-N-DB724-1125 SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 20, 2020) Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct cargo net training in the hangar bay of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). America, the flagship of the America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st MEU team, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jomark A. Almazan)

“This capability greatly enhances the 31st MEU’s ability to conduct increasingly dynamic tactical actions and operations across the Pacific,” said Scull. “Under the cover of darkness, specially-equipped Marine elements can debark onto a landing craft and insert uncontested onto small islands in the Pacific”.

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)

375,000 tons of flattops, By the numbers

CVs at Piers 11 and 12. 18 October 1985

Image via Chris Powell shared Research Library, USS Midway Museum’s photo

18 October 1985: This congregation of carriers moored in numerical order from front to back at Piers 11 and 12 at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, are the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) (both Nimitz-class), and the conventionally-powered USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and the Kitty Hawk-class USS America (CV-66).

While Ike and Nimitz are still on active duty and will be for some time, JFK has been laid up since 2007 and is currently berthed at the NAVSEA Inactive Ships On-site Maintenance facility in Philadelphia on possible museum hold.

America, on the other hand, was decommed in 1996 as a cost saving measure as she was up for refit and is the largest warship and only supercarrier ever to be sunk, scuttled in very deep water after live-fire testing 14 May 2005.

Atlantic Ocean (May 14, 2005) – The decommissioned aircraft carrier, USS America (CV 66) was “laid to rest” after being sunk at sea. America was the target of a series of tests designed to test new defense and damage control systems for the CVN-21 program. The conventionally-powered carrier, left active service in 1996. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg (RELEASED)

Atlantic Ocean (May 14, 2005) – The decommissioned aircraft carrier, USS America (CV 66) was “laid to rest” after being sunk at sea. America was the target of a series of tests designed to test new defense and damage control systems for the CVN-21 program. The conventionally-powered carrier, left active service in 1996. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg (RELEASED)

 

Project Whale Tale

In the 1960s the U-2 spy plane was the most advance manned recon aircraft in the world. However, all planes have a finite range. With that in mind, the CIA wanted to test stretching the U-2’s range to help get those “hard to reach” areas by using strategically placed U.S. Navy aircraft carriers as launching, receiving or refueling points. After all, they figured if a B-25 could take off from a 1942-era carrier, why couldn’t a U-2 take off from a larger one in 1962?

Thus began the saga of Project Whale Tale which ran from 1963-69 and saw CIA pilots get carrier qualed on T-2 Buckeye trainers from USS Lexington and test their actual long-winged spy planes from USS Kitty Hawk and USS America.

U-2 on deck of USS America CV-66

U-2 on deck of USS America CV-66

According to The Aviationist, the operational ability to take off from and land on a carrier was used only once, in May 1964, when a U-2G operating off the USS Ranger was used to monitor the French nuclear test range, at Mururoa Atoll, in the South Pacific Ocean, well out of range of any land-based U-2 aircraft.

Still, it was done and who knows what happened that has yet to be declassified. So if an old salt tells you a tale of a visit when he was in the service of a blacked out powered glider with a 103 ft wingspan, don’t write it off as so much fluff.

The shit couldhave happened.  Keep in mind that the U-2 is still in active service.

Here is a neat video (without sound) of some U-2 carrier ops

LHA6 At Sea

Looking like 1944 is calling and sending an Essex class fleet carrier into a time warp, the newest Amphibious Assault Ship, PCU
USS America (LHA6) is on her builders trials.

 

“The amphibious assault ship America (LHA 6), built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, MS, sails the Gulf of Mexico on
builder’s sea trials, Nov. 7-9, 2013″

Built without a floodable well dock like the 8 LHDs that came before her, or even the Tarawa class LHAs, the America is a strait
aviation-only ship. She’s similar in concept to the old 15,000-ton USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) amphibious assault ships of the 1960s– just nearly three times as large.

The LHA6 class is optimized to operate a couple squadrons of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, making the ship basically an aircraft carrier when not jam packed full of a Marine Battalion Landing Team and its attached MAU of helicopters and CV-22 aircraft.  The Navy wants 11 of these to replace the LHAs and LHDs currently in service. This class investment means the F-35C variant *has* to be built as these ships would recover their fixed wing birds (AV-8, F-35, CV-22) by vertical landing only.

Lets compare 1944 with 2014

Essex class fleet carrier

  • 36,960-ton full load
  • 888-feet overall
  • 147.5 feet of beam at widest point of deck (only 94 at the waterline)
  • 27.5 feet max draft
  • 150,000 shp to make 32.7kts at full speed/20,000 knot range at 15 on boiler-fired steam turbines
  • 2170 ships crew, 870 airwing
  • 90 WWII propeller driven aircraft, 40-modern jets in 1960s/70s.

America class LHA

  • 45,693-ton full load
  • 844 feet overall
  • 106-feet of beam (at waterline, no figure for widest point of deck)
  • 70,000 shp to make ’20+’ knots on gas turbines. Range undisclosed but thought to be 9500nm+ at 20kts.
  • 1060 ships crew, upto 1600 marines or airwing embarked
  • 22-31 modern aircraft

Still, this ‘ambib’ is a more capable aircraft carrier than just about any other ship outside of a NATO navy. It should be noted that
the only other purposely built warship named USS America ever completed was CV-66, commissioned in 1965 and decommissioned in 1996,– was a KittyHawk-class attack carrier.