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SNA 2014: Heat From F-35, MV-22 Continue to Plague Big Deck Amphibs

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An F-35B Lightning II aircraft takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1). US Navy Photo

An F-35B Lightning II aircraft takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1). US Navy Photo

The Navy is continuing to wrestle with landing deck issues aboard its amphibious ships, tied to flight operations with the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and MV-22 Osprey.

Naval Sea Systems Command have drafted a plan to cope with the problem, using a combination of limited operations and deck modifications to allow the JSF and Osprey to fly off the service’s large deck amphibious warships.

Program leaders are working through 14 different ship modifications aboard the USS America (LHA-6), the first ship in the Navy’s new class of large-deck amphibs, designed to preserve the warship’s landing deck, Capt. Chris Mercer, head of Navy’s amphibious warfare shop, said Tuesday.

Along with those modifications, Navy leaders are also limiting the number of flight operations being conducted off of America, as part of deck preservation plan, Mercer said during a briefing at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Crystal City, Va.

But Mercer did note the strategy in place for the America will not be necessary for the next two of the LHAs in the class.

USS Tripoli (LHA-7) and the yet-unnamed LHA-8, “will be able to carry out “complete unrestricted operations” with the F-35 and MV-22, Mercer said.

The B variant of the F-35 is a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft that produces much more heat when it lands and takes off than the current AV-8B Harrier fighters currently flown off of big decks. Likewise, the exhaust heat from the nacelles of the Osprey has damaged flight decks in the past.

Both warships will be able to handle the deck heat issues, based on the lessons learned from the strategy in place aboard the America, Mercer said.

Deck damage issues related to jet engine downwash from the Osprey and F-35 have long plagued the Navy’s efforts to get those aircraft aboard the amphib fleet.

That said, Navy leaders “fully understand . . . the stresses and failures that the flight deck can accept,” Mercer said.

But when pressed as to why service officials have yet to come up with an answer for the deck heat issue, he said program officials were still struggling with finding a “cost-effective solution” to the problem.

However, Mercer was adamant the operational restrictions aboard America would not affect the combat effectiveness of the ship, given its mission.

The caps “are not going to be a problem” since the primary mission for the Navy’s amphibs was quick assault operations, not sustained warfare missions carried out by the service’s aircraft carriers,” Mercer said.

Since the LHA is not designed to support a sustained air campaign, the deck modifications and operational caps will not affect deck reliability aboard the America“as long as we spread [combat sorties] out,” he said.

  • Gabriele

    Can’t understand if the limitations on the LHA-6 America are temporary, until all modifications are carried out or validated, or if the problem simply can’t be solved entirely and the limitations are permanent. In this second case, it looks actually a serious problem, that will have an impact on UK and Italy plans as well…

  • RunningBear

    This aritlcle seems to have “Large Holes” in what is stated and what is implied. What is the sense of these limitations, “no roasting of marshmallows” behind these new aviation hot topics? Is the America to sail around with a “big” bandaid on the flight deck?, not likely? It’s hard to imagine a Navy Capt. poorly communicating these significant limitations on a new ship, unless he is retiring that day. Was this a twitter article; big topic and no content? Sorry to be so negative.

  • Tom Godwin

    Just do what the Royal Navy did in the 1970’s with the Ark Royal when they had problems with the Spey engines in the F4K. spray water on the deck where the heat from the exhaust is melting it.