- The US Navy announced last week that it would send the USS America, a new type of amphibious assault ship, to the Pacific to increase the firepower in the region.
- The USS America can be outfitted with a heavy configuration of F-35B stealth fighters and repurposed to function as a so-called Lightning carrier.
- The Navy stressed that the security situation in the region demands that it shifts its most capable ships forward to bring the greatest amount of striking power into the area.
- The decision to send the USS America, which will replace the older USS Wasp as it rotates home, to this area of operations comes as China flexes its muscles in the region.
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The US Navy announced last week that it would bring increased strike power to US forces in Pacific with a new deployment.
The USS America – a new, more capable amphibious assault ship able to deploy with a heavier configuration of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters than its predecessors and serve as a light aircraft carrier – is joining the US 7th Fleet’s forward-deployed naval forces at Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Sasebo, Japan.
Also headed to Japan is the USS New Orleans, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock.
The USS Wasp, a predecessor to the America-class amphibious assault ships, will depart the region for scheduled maintenance in Norfolk, Virginia, the Navy said, adding that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem will head to San Diego for its midlife modernisation.
“China, China, China”
On his first day as acting secretary of defence, Patrick Shanahan made his priorities clear, reportedly stressing that the focus is “China, China, China.”The latest deployment is intended to increase US firepower in the Pacific as China is flexing its muscles in the region.
“The security environment in the Indo-Pacific requires that the US Navy station the most capable ships forward,” Naval Forces Japan said in a statement on the USS America’s rotation into the 7th Fleet area of operations.
“This posture allows the most rapid response times possible for maritime and joint forces,” the service said, adding that the latest deployment “brings our most capable ships with the greatest amount of striking power and operational capability to bear in the timeliest manner.”
The USS America is basically a light aircraft carrier.
Unlike the Wasp-class amphibs, the new America-class ships are more focused on aviation than amphibious assault.
These flattop ships were designed with increased jet fuel and equipment storage, as well as more aircraft maintenance space. The USS America can carry about 20 short-takeoff/vertical-landing F-35Bs, a variant of the fifth-generation fighter built specifically for the Marine Corps.
They can also deploy with fewer fighters and more tiltrotor aircraft and helicopters.
The USS America was last in the Pacific from July 2017 to February 2018.
The departing USS Wasp has been experimenting with the “Lightning carrier” concept in the South China Sea.
Turning amphibs into light carriers armed with F-35s is an experimental concept known as the “Lightning carrier,” a take on the traditional “Harrier carriers” (amphibs armed with AV-8 Harrier jump jets) rebranded with the name of the new stealth F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
The USS Wasp recently sailed into the South China Sea with an unusually heavy configuration of 10 F-35s. Observers suspect the Navy and the Marine Corps were experimenting with the Lightning carrier.
At one point, the USS Wasp was spotted launching fighter jets near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, putting Beijing on edge.
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