USS America (LHA-6) arrived at its new homeport of Sasebo, Japan, on Thursday, a move that puts the big-deck amphibious assault ship designed to accommodate the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters in the Western Pacific.
America is now part of the U.S. 7th Fleet forward-deployed amphibious force, replacing big-deck amphib USS Wasp (LHD-1), which completed a move to Naval Station Norfolk last month.
“America’s sailors and Marines are ready to join the high-performing team of 7th Fleet with our allies and partners to fulfill the enduring mission of our forward-deployed Naval Forces,” Capt. Luke Frost, America’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to integrating America’s flexible and adaptable fifth-generation capabilities into theater to maintain peace and stability and contribute to the prosperity and security of the Indo-Pacific.”
America is one of two big-deck amphibious warships built without a well deck to focus on aviation operations. America and the future Tripoli (LHA-7), when compared to Wasp-class amphibious assault ships, have enlarged hangars, expanded aviation maintenance facilities, increased spare parts and equipment storage and increased aviation fuel storage, according to the Navy.
Tripoli had its commissioning delayed by shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries. The company is testing some of the ship’s systems to ensure they will last as intended for the life of the ship. Tripoli is now expected to join the fleet in May 2020 and will likely be homeported in San Diego, according to a Navy Personnel Command notice seeking crewmembers for the ship.
Moving aviation-centric America to Japan expands on Marine capabilities moving to the Western Pacific. America, as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, is expected to regularly integrate its operations with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
“Our entire team is thrilled to welcome the crew and families of USS America, a ship that is exceptionally well suited to support the full spectrum of military operations conducted by our forward-deployed force,” Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, said in a statement. “I could not think of a more fitting ship or namesake to play such a central role supporting the United States’ commitment to the security, stability and prosperity of this vital region as we work together with our allies and partners to safeguard a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Joining America in moving to Sasebo is San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD-18), the second transport dock ship assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious fleet. Having a second LPD provides the Navy more flexibility to conduct maintenance on other forward-deployed amphibious warships and still generate three-ship amphibious ready groups. Currently, USS Green Bay (LPD-20), USS Ashland (LSD-48) and USS Germantown (LSD-42) are stationed in Japan.
“We welcome the USS New Orleans crew and families who will be an incredible addition to our forward-deployed team in the Seventh Fleet theater,” Kacher said in a statement. “The increase in capacity to our amphibious forces this great ship represents will allow us to operate more regularly with our allies and partners in this vital region and support even stronger naval integration with our number one warfighting partner, the United States Marine Corps.”