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USS America Performing Well in Trials; Shipbuilder Looking for Further Efficiencies

140131-N-AC979-064NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Post-delivery testing on USS America (LHA-6) went far more smoothly than on previous big-decks, and the Navy and Ingalls Shipbuilding are trying to leverage this success as they move forward with the next two amphibious assault ships.

Capt. Chris Mercer, amphibious warfare program manager at Naval Sea Systems Command, said USS America’s (LHA-6) sea trials – which most recently include Combat System Ships Qualification Trials (CSSQT) in March and final contract trials (FCT) this month – “went very well across the board.”

Through almost 500 different test events in the one-week FCT two weeks ago, Mercer said “the trial went very well, especially compared to previous efforts on large decks – probably half the number of deficiencies identified, really great grades throughout. The combat system has been performing excellent, we got perfect grades across the board on our detect-to-engage.”

Brian Cuccias, president of Ingalls Shipbuilding, said that America is the 14th big-deck amphib to join the fleet and was the first ever to make it through a sea trial with zero starred cards, which indicate critical deficiencies.

Mercer said the ship would go through a few more test events this month, would do joint testing on its warfare systems at Point Mugu, and then go into a 40-week post-shakedown availability starting in June. After a few more trials, America will go into basic phase workups, probably participate in next year’s Rim of the Pacific international exercise, complete initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) and then deploy.

Mercer told USNI News after his presentation that, since America has an enhanced aviation design and no well deck, the Navy and Marine Corps have spent two to three years working on the tactics for the ship that will direct how it deploys.

“In the beginning it’s just going to be a traditional [Amphibious Ready Group] deployment,” Mercer said. “She may even deploy with Harriers her first time” until the Marine Corps has enough of its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), he added.

USS Tripoli (LHA-7) will also be aviation-enhanced, and LHA-8 will be the first to re-introduce the well deck to allow surface connector operations.

Cuccias said that Tripoli is ahead of schedule, being already 25 percent erected with higher levels of outfitting than America at this stage in construction. Ahead of its 2018 delivery, though, Cuccias said Ingalls Shipbuilding is trying to find other ways to take more cost out of the ship in innovative ways, such as simplifying the ventilation system to save time and money.

Tripoli will also have some modifications made to its flight deck to make it JSF-compatible, whereas those modifications will have to be backfitted into America. Mercer said America would have the modifications made during a maintenance availability, Tripoli would have the modifications added into the contract via engineering change proposals, and future amphibs would include them from the outset.

Tripoli does have the flight deck mods in the contract, and so since Tripoli is the sister ship of America we really know exactly what it takes to go do that, we’ve offered our assistance to the Navy and they are using some of our technical assistance,” Cuccias said.

It is unclear at this point if Ingalls Shipbuilding will build LHA-8. The Navy decided earlier this year to combine the LHA-8 contract with the T-AO(X) oiler replacement contract into a single competition between Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard. Each builder would get one program, and the winner with the lowest combined bid would win engineering work on the LX(R) amphibious dock landing ship replacement program, which will be based off of Ingalls’ San Antonio-class LPDs.

Cuccias said he could not talk about the company’s bidding strategy yet because the Navy had not provided information on how the bids would be evaluated.

“I think we’re treating them both with parity,” he said.
“I don’t know how the outcome will come out, I don’t want to pre-predict on how I think the solution will be in how we approach the bid. We’re going to aggressively go after both and have a solid proposal on either side.”

“Certainly the large deck is the more complicated ship to build, LHA-8 is a significantly more complex, much more difficult program and product to implement than T-AO,” he continued.
“We just have to evaluate that when we look at our bidding approach, our build approach. …. We look at what we’re building and we look at how we build it, and you take that into consideration on both projects.”

He did not say which program he would prefer to win, but he said he was pleased the work is guaranteed to be split between the two yards and all their subcontractors.

“I really want to applaud the Navy in addressing the industrial base, I think the industrial base is hugely important,” he said.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Well Decks are a nice feature for ships that support Marine amphibious operations. Too bad the USS America won’t have one, but at least the next one will (USS Tripoli).

    • USNVO

      Might want to re read the article, the well deck is reintroduced on LHA-8, Tripoli will be configured exactly like the America.

      • publius_maximus_III

        Ah-so — I stand corrected, USNVO. Thanks.

        I hope that returning landing craft don’t get confused at night and plow right into the “solid walls” of those two oddball LHA’s instead of the “open wells” of the others.

    • TheWookie

      Well decks, still fighting WW2!

  • Rob C.

    I hope their able work out how to use the America(s) when they both come out. They went through alot trouble to make aviation only Amphibious Assault Ship aka Helicopter Carrier LPH and not call it that. Airlifting troops is important, arguably fastest way to get infantry into the field, but it doesn’t help to take care of other units that need move their jeeps, trucks, and tanks.

    Perhaps in the auxiliary role, the ship can also be used in the Anti-Submarine Warfare, freeing up the destroyers being used in anti-ballistic shield defense…

    • USNVO

      I think the ships will work just fine. The well deck is nice for a variety of reasons, but having the extra aviation capability can also have it’s advantages. During both Desert Storm and OIF the Navy used LHAs and LHDs for dedicated harrier carriers with good effect. The AMERICA will be better in that role. Additionally, for distributed operations, greater aviation capability is better. The ARG/MEU will still have a significant waterborne lift capability resident in the LPDs and LSDs but obviously less flexibility than with a well deck on the LHA as well. So for some missions, the ships will be better and for other not as good. Time will tell.

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  • Secundius

    The third ship of the America class, tentatively doubt the LHA-8, USS. Fallujah. Will have a Well Deck…

    • @NotRizzo

      The only place I’ve seen anything about naming LHA-8 the USS Fallujah is on twitter (@uss_fallujah) which is an accont of a retired Marine who’s primarily concerned with bashing the SecNav for doing a crappy job naming ships.
      I see ZERO chance they name a ship after Fallujah (it’s currently in ISIS hands for one thing), but I think he has done some good work on getting the Navy to name a Destroyer after Rafael Peralta (read about that soap opera on wiki if you want a look at how disfunctional SecNav/SecDef comms can be)

      • Secundius

        @ NotRizzo.

        What does the naming of a ship have too do with anything. The Marines, fought at Tripoli too. But we don’t control Tripoli either…

  • Robert M. Samara II

    I think the naming of a U.S. Naval vessel should reflect on what we believe and who we are as a people! Not on a country that can’t control it’s own destiny! Here is what I think we should name her, USS Liberation, cause that’s what we do! We liberate nations that need help from tyrants who oppress and brutalize, and have no sence of self worth, or love of life! It makes sence to me!!!

    • DepDawg

      Get your history right Samaras II, USS Tripoli named for the Barbary Coast fighting in the early 1800’s – you know, ” From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…”

      • Robert M. Samara II

        Just wanted to let you know I changed my comment. The last thing I want to do is put out false or incorrect information! Specially when it comes to history! Thank you DepDawg

  • Robert M. Samara II

    Your right! My apologies, I don’t know why I thought WWII! Got my history mixed up. Thank you for correcting me.