The LHA-6 and LHA-7 amphibious decks have enhanced aviation capabilities that enable the amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit team to operate a composite air combat element of 28 aircraft and five different type model-series aircraft or up to 23 F35B Joint Strike Fighters. Subsequent ships ("Flight 1") will have reduced island to accommodate more aircraft.
LHA(R) will optimize the aviation performance capabilities of the LHD design and will enhance Marine Corps and Special Operations amphibious assault missions by enabling the deployment of lighter, more precise combat forces at longer ranges and greater speeds. The enhanced capabilities of the future ACE, coupled with LHA(R)'s enlarged hangar deck, enhanced aviation maintenance facilities, increased aviation fuel capacity, and additional aviation storerooms will add a warfighting dimension not previously available to the Joint Force Commander.
LHA 6 design modifications optimize aviation operations and support activities. Removal of the well deck provides for an extended hangar deck with two wider high bay areas, each fitted with an overhead crane for aircraft maintenance. Other enhancements include a reconfigurable command and control complex, a hospital facility, additional aviation fuel capacity, and numerous aviation support spaces. These changes equip the ship to be an integral part of joint, interagency and multinational maritime forces. It will be configured to support landing force elements as well as various naval amphibious command and control and support organizations.
LHA 6, the first ship of the LHA(R) program, is able to operate and support a detachment of 20+ F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. LHA 6 featurs several aviation capabilities enhanced beyond previous amphibious assault ships. These include an enlarged hangar deck, realignment and expansion of the aviation maintenance facilities, a significant increase in available stowage for parts and support equipment, and increased aviation fuel capacity. LHA 6 is multi-functional and versatile, modifying existing Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) spaces to allow for flexible mission dependent reconfiguration. LHA 6 has increased cargo magazine capacity, better survivability, and greater service life margins. LHA 6 uses the same gas turbine propulsion plant, zonal electrical distribution and electric auxiliary systems designed and built for LHD 8, the final of the Wasp class amphibious assault ships.
The ship is equipped with a fuel efficient hybrid electric propulsion system, the same built for USS Makin Island (LHD 8), which is an energy initiative designed to give the ship the benefit of increased range, endurance and time on station enhancing USS America's combat capability. It also provides greater flexibility with regards to scheduling refueling and reduced maintenance costs. AMERICA uses two modes of propulsion, the General Electric LM2500 + Gas Turbine engine and the Auxiliary Propulsion Motor (APM). The gas turbines can be used at all speeds to drive the ship in excess of 20 knots, but is least fuel efficient at speeds of 12 knots or less. The Auxiliary Propulsion Motor (APM) allows the ship to travel at speeds up to 12 knots using electrical power provided by the ship which results in significant fuel savings.
LHA 6 Program
The amphibious fleet was expected to become organized for forward presence into twelve ARGs (eventually Expeditionary Support Groups), each with three ships. The centerpiece of the ARG was a Wasp-class or Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship. The first five Tarawa (LHA-1)-class amphibious assault ships were commissioned between 1976 and 1980. The five ships of the Tarawa class general-purpose amphibious assault ships (LHA) reach the end of their expected service lives at the rate of one per year from 2011 to 2015. Originally intended for a service life of 20 years, this was later extended to 35 years through limited mid-life upgrades. Although the Navy had considered a SLEP for the LHAs, this was ultimately assessed to be technically infeasible and unaffordable. LHD 8 would replace one of the LHAs, while the LHA(R) program would replace the last four Tarawa-class LHAs.
The LHA(R) would replace the LHA 1 class of amphibious assault ships, and would have the flexibility to operate in the traditional role as the flagship for an Expeditionary Strike Group, as well as potentially playing a key role in the maritime pre-positioning force future (MPF(F)). As the Navy's Seabasing plan matures, the flexibility to operate with the Expeditionary Strike Group and as part of the MPF(F) will make the LHA(R) a vital cog in the Sea Base. LHA(R) would be a variant of the gas turbine-powered LHD 8. The one key difference of LHA(R) from LHD 8 was that it would be an aviation-enhanced assault ship tailored for the US Marine Corps future Aviation Combat Element centered on the STOVL F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey.
The LHA replacement modifies the LHD design to maximize support for the V-22, the CH-53, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with adequate service margins for growth. The biggest change brought about in the Global War on Terror is LHA(R). The aviation specific variant of the LHA(R) has no well deck, a monumental decision that denotes a cultural change. The Marines were seen as bringing the ACE (Aviation Coordination Element) increasingly back to sea.
The LHA 6 will replace one of the aging LHA 1 class of amphibious assault ships. Like its predecessors, it will be able to operate as the flagship for an expeditionary strike group. Ships of this type may also play a key role in the Maritime Pre-Positioning Force (Future). Northrop Grumman has built five LHAs as well as seven USS Wasp (LHD 1) class ships.
Tarawa-class LHAs were designed to embark, deploy, and land elements of a Marine Corps and Special Operations assault landing force by rotary-wing aircraft, landing craft, and amphibious vehicles. They have since been modified to accommodate fixed-wing and tilt-rotor aircraft and are routinely deployed as one of three amphibious ships comprising a forward-deployed ESG. LHAs can carry a mix of 42 rotary-wing and fixed-wing Vertical / Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) and Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft, one air-cushioned landing craft (LCAC) vehicle or four utility landing craft vehicles (LCU), and over 1,700 troops. They support sea-based command and control of waterborne and air vehicle ship-to-shore movements. With a Fleet Surgical Team embarked, an LHA can function as a primary casualty receiving and treatment ship with 17 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, four operating rooms, 300 hospital beds, a 1,000-unit blood bank, and dental and x-ray facilities.
The three remaining Tarawa-class LHAs will reach the end of their extended service lives between 2011 and 2015. Because this ship class cannot fully support the future ACE, centered on the MV-22B and F-35B aircraft, and because the service life allowance margins for weight and center of gravity have been completely depleted, building more Tarawa-class LHAs would mandate undesirable trade-offs in mission weight and capability.
LHA 6 Flight I / LHA 8 class
The America class consists of LHA 6 USS America and LHA 7 USS Tripoli. LHA 6 was comissioned 11 October 2014. LHA 7 is scheduled for delivery in FY18. The America class is optimized for aviation operations and does not contain a well deck for surface interface operations.
In PB11, the Department determined the large-deck aviation ships previously designated for the MPF(F) would better serve the Navy and Marine Corps in the amphibious ship inventory. LHA 8 will be a Flight I ship. The LHA 8 class will restore a two LCAC spot well deck allowing for surface interface operations while maintaining aviation capabilities commensurate with modern aircraft.
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