Home » Aviation » USS Wasp Headed Back to Norfolk Next Year after Brief Japan Deployment

USS Wasp Headed Back to Norfolk Next Year after Brief Japan Deployment

Amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) prepares to pull into Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo on Jan. 14, 2018. US Navy Photo

After less than a year in Japan, the amphibious warship USS Wasp (LHD-1) is preparing its sailors to return to the East Coast next year, USNI News has learned.

Wasp, one of two amphibious warships certified to operate Marine F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters, is set to return to Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in late 2019 as part of a previously set plan to balance the F-35B capability across both coasts, a defense official confirmed to USNI News.

A U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson confirmed the ship would eventually move to Norfolk but would neither provide a timeline for the move nor what ship would replace Wasp, citing a Pacific Fleet policy of not discussing future ship movements.

“We don’t have any additional announcements on homeport shifts at this time,” Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr told USNI News.

Wasp departed Norfolk on Aug. 30, 2017, and arrived in Japan in January. While serving in the Forward Deployed Naval Force-Japan, Wasp conducted the first U.S. amphibious ready group patrol with F-35Bs, which were assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The previous FDNF-J amphibious flagship, USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), had operated from Sasebo, Japan, for six years before relocating to San Diego in May.

While the Navy wouldn’t comment on the timing, the USS Wasp (LHD 1) Facebook page posted a notice on the transition with a movie poster mockup with the title, “The Adventures of Wasp: Homeport Shift to Norfolk in 2019.” Two defense officials confirmed the planned 2019 date to USNI News this week.

USNI News understands the Navy is committed to have a F-35B-capable amphibious assault ship operating in Japan to support the forward-deployed JSFs of the “Green Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121.

Of the nine big-deck amphibious ships in the U.S. inventory, only Wasp, the currently deployed USS Essex (LHD-2) and USS America (LHA-6) have launched and recovered Marine F-35Bs at sea. USS Makin Island (LHD-8) began an availability last year that would upgrade the ship to operate the fighters, USS Boxer (LHD-4) underwent a similar maintenance availability that completed in 2017 and Bonhomme Richard is set to start a maintenance period that would add that capability to the big deck.

Pacific Fleet has been guarded about ship movements in its area of responsibility in accordance with a policy established by current commander Adm. John Aquilino. The Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group both deployed earlier this year with no public notice.

  • Duane

    No mention of the air wing and the F-35s – do they stay with the Wasp, or do they stay in West Pac to either operate from a land base or go aboard one of the other big deck aviation amphibs?

    • Da Facts

      LHD’s don’t have Air Wings. They deploy with the Air Element of a MEU, which is rotational.

      • RunningBear

        VMFA-121 “Green Knights” F-35B, is under the command of;
        Marine Air Group-12 part of 1-Marine Aircraft Wing 3rd-Marine Expeditionary Force.

        Currently tasked, “it is” the Air Element of the 31MEU with the Wasp ESG. As such, it is the Marine Air Ground Task Force in Japan.

        Fly Navy

      • Duane

        Thanks, but I used lower case “air wing” generically not “Air Wing” as an official title.

        But since you want to be picky in nomenclature, the correct official title for a marine aviation organization that deploys on an aviation amphib is a “Marine Aircraft Group” or MAG.

        And you didn’t answer my actual question – where does the F-35 contingent on the Wasp go when the ship goes back to CONUS?

        • Da Facts

          No official announcement has been made. My guess, and only my guess, is the VMFA-121 will remain stationed in Japan. What ever ship replaces the Wasp either is able to support the F-35B or will be modified to do so. With Japan’s now stated interest is obtaining the F-35B as well, and modification of the Izumo class to carry them makes this more likely.

          • Rob C.

            How is VMFA-121 going get to a deployement if they don’t have a “ride” aka LHA/LHD to haul them into the deployment zone if they remain in Japan?

            I would speculate either one of the LHA/Ds is about to leave or their going back with the Wasp.

          • Da Facts

            As I posted to another response, my best guess is the Wasp will be replaced by another F-35B capable LHD. Even if not, VMFA-121 can still self deploy from Japan until a deck is available. Eventually, all the LHD’s will be modified.

          • USNVO

            If I was a betting man, I would look at the following four pieces of information to identify the LHA/LHD in question.

            1. The FDNF ARG has four ships
            2. Timeline. So which ship that has returned from deployment sometime in early 2018 and can support a 2019 swap.
            3. F-35B capable.
            4. Support requirements and crew numbers. As in, how do you minimize them?

            Find that ship and you have the likely, next FDNF LHA/LHD.

          • Da Facts

            Update. Although I think Business Insider is a terrible news source, they reported Friday that the USS America will replace the Wasp in Sasebo.

        • Duane, your question sparked my curiosity about how the USMC manages the rotations of its fixed-wing squadrons overseas, especially the Asian Pacific. It’s remarkable how inconsistent these assignments are, perhaps due to combat deployments to airbases in Afghanistan and Kuwait (F-18, AV-8).

          But we must also consider that 5 or 6 F-35Bs on an LHA/LHD represents only half of the full squadron based at Iwakuni, Japan, and it only makes sense (my guess) for the two halfs to swap roles at a convenient time during the LHD’s deployment to share the training, wear and tear. That said, there’s only one place for those F-35s to go when the vessel’s deployment is done, and that would be back with their full squadron at Iwakuni.

          As for their duration at Iwakuni, I notice that the squadron, VMFA-121, arrived there in January 2017, nearly two years ago. This was declared a “permanent” assignment as opposed to a 6- to 12-month ‘UDP’ or Unit Deployment Program rotation. Of course nothing is permanent. Could be a 3-year stint with dependents in tow or it could be based on the depot maintenance and upgrade schedule of their airframes.

          I notice there’s an F-18 squadron permanently based at Iwakuni, while Harrier squadrons tend to do short UDPs. As more squadrons and heat-resistant LHD/LHAs stand up, I would expect F-35 embarkations to occur from SoCal and the Carolinas as well as Japan.

  • RunningBear

    Typically LHD1 Wasp would be relieved at Sasebo for 6-12 years.

    – USMC F-35B supported only by the USN LHA/D currently are the America, Wasp, Essex, Boxer.
    – The MAG-12 stationed at MCAS Iwakuni supports the MEU embarked aboard the LHD at Sasebo. VMFA-121 Green Knights with F-35B at Iwakuni
    Fly Navy

  • Ed L

    Don’t advertise Ship movements. Keep the bad guys guessing. loose lips sink ships

  • honcho13

    I am “assuming” (yeah, I know) that Wasp’s time in Japan was an “accompanied” tour and that they’re now gonna have to move all those families back to the states??? And, then the NAV is gonna have put a replacement ARG over in Sasebo – with their families! YIKKKES! Spending money like we have it! Anybody have the straight skinny on this? Thanks! MMCS(SW), USN (ret)

    • Rob C.

      I feel bad about the families having to uproute abruptly. That is expensive and stressful thing to have go through.

    • USNVO

      Well, you said you knew what happens when you assume things…

      I am not sure what they will do, since they only announced the WASP is returning, but most likely it will be like previous rotations of FDNFs. The new LHD/LHA will sail to Japan, most of the crews will swap, and the WASP will return home with the majority of e crew from whatever ship relieved them. Personnel in Japan will likely remain in Japan until their transfer date The only exception will be for ratings specific to the new ship. So for instance, if the America is forward deployed, since they have a diesel electric/gas turbine hybrid propulsion plant and not steam like the WASP, they will send all the steam guys back to the US. But most of the other ratings will just swap to the new ship. The other ships in the ARG will remain in Japan and will not be effected.

      Of course, just because they did it that way for the last 20years of so doesn’t mean they won’t do it the way you outlined. We will have to wait and see.

  • Da Facts

    Facts are not pedantry. The LHD does not have an Air Wing or an air wing. Nor is it assigned a Marine Aircraft Group. The air unit assigned to a LHD is a portion of the Air Combat Element (ACE) of a Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Air Combat Element is made of detachments from the various Marine Aircraft Groups assigned to the Marine Air Wing within the Marine Expeditionary Force that the Marine Expeditionary Unit is assembled from. For example, the current MEU 31 ACE is made up of VMM-262 (Reinforced) and VMFA-121.
    VMFA-121 from Marine Aircraft Group 12
    VMM-262 from Marine Aircraft Group 36
    Unit Deployed elements for CONUS bases HMLA and HMH squadrons provide the rest of the ACE and are rotated.

    A typical Air Combat Element consists of 4-6 AH-1Z and 3 UH-1Y from a HMLA, 12 MV-22A from a VMM, 4 CH-53E from a HMH, 2 KC-130 flying from land bases, and 6 AV-8B from a VMA. VMFA-121 replaces the AV-8B with F-35B.

    There have been no announcements about VMFA-121 rotating back to CONUS.