The Navy's newest class of large-deck amphibious assault ship, LHA 6, will bear the name USS America, Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter announced June 27, while speaking at the USS America Carrier Veterans Association reunion in Jacksonville, Fla. This ship will inherit a proud tradition, explained Winter. From the American Revolution through the first Gulf War, three warships have sailed with the name America. "To serve in a ship named after our country adds to the pride one feels in being part of the Navy and adds to the feeling that when America pulls into port, there is no more powerful symbol of the power, the ideals, and the greatness of the United States of America," said Winter.
LHA 6 will be the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name America. The first America, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line, was first built for use by the Continental Navy. However, before having a chance to serve the fledgling U.S. Navy, the ship was presented as a gift to the king of France to show appreciation for his country's service to the new nation. The second USS America (ID-3006) was used to transport troops during World War I. The third ship to bear the name was a Kitty-Hawk class aircraft carrier (CV 66) in commission 1965-1996. Among other notable accomplishments, the carrier America made three deployments to Vietnam and launched air strikes on Iraq during the opening days of Operation Desert Storm.
The newest America will provide presence and power projection as an integral part of joint and multinational maritime expeditionary forces. The ship will support Marine Corps aviation requirements across a wide spectrum of operations, from small-scale contingency operations as the centerpiece of a forward-deployed expeditionary strike group, to forcible entry missions in a major theater war.
LHA 6 replaces the aging Tarawa-class and represents a conscious decision to increase the aviation capacity of future big deck amphibious ships in order to maximize the Navy's investment in future aircraft. LHA 6 will have an extended hangar deck with two higher hangar bay areas, each fitted with an overhead crane for aircraft maintenance. LHA 6 will also provide increased aviation fuel capacity, stowage for aviation parts and support equipment. LHA 6 will be able to embark and launch the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, cargo and attack helicopters, the AV-8B Harrier and the short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) variant F-35B Lightning II Strike Fighter. Subsequent ships ("Flight 1") will have reduced island to accommodate more aircraft. LHA-7 design decision (Reduced Island Concept [RIC] & Well Deck) pending for FY- 10 ship.
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(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.
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. The Pascagoula shipyard is currently building an eighth LHD, Makin Island.
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, would be 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 would be multi-functional and versatile, modifying existing Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) spaces to allow for flexible mission dependent reconfiguration. LHA 6 would also have increased cargo magazine capacity, better survivability, and greater service life margins. LHA 6 would use the same gas turbine propulsion plant, zonal electrical distribution and electric auxiliary systems being designed and built for LHD 8, the final of the Wasp class amphibious assault ships.
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.
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