The USS America on Track to the Future: An Update from Captain Hall


2013-12-05  We first met with Captain Hall at the time of the christening of the latest large deck amphibious ship for the USN-USMC team.

Recently, we were able to discuss the progress of the ship and the next phase of the ship’s preparation for deployment. 

The Captain is an experienced CRUDES officer. For those of us not raised in the USN, this means an officer with Cruiser-Destroyer surface fleet background.  And for Navy folks he would be described as a “black shoe” as opposed to a “brown shoe.”

Again for those of us who have not served in the USN, this refers coming from the surface ship community rather than the aviation community.

Credit Video of USS America during the builder trials: Huntington Ingalls, November 2013

He has served as the chief engineer on a Spruance class destroyer and most recently was a Captain of a DDG.  And in his last deployment with the DDG, he deployed with the USS Kearsarge as well in the Indian Ocean.

It is important to remember that Admiral Halsey, when he went into the hospital before the Battle of Midway recommended that his surface ship Commander (a “black shoe” in Navy parlance) Admiral Spruance take command of Task Force 16, the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet battle group.  Admiral Nimitz CINCPAC, a submariner, accepted Halsey’s recommendation. He leaned on the ability of Spruance to maneuver the ships, to attack and withdraw as a key element of operational dominance.

We are seeing once again a merging of the communities.

In our last interview, the prospective commander of the USS America highlighted the nature of the ship and its future contribution:

We are a large deck amphibious ship, just as the Kearsarge. But we are an aviation-centric large deck amphibious ship and we’ve been designed specifically without a well deck so we can support the USMC’s next generation of aircraft. 

We can get out there with a much larger hanger bay with two high-hat areas to support maintenance on the much larger MV-22s.  The maintenance requirements for the F-35 are met and we have the capability to expand when required for future development. With our added fuel, ordnance, maintenance capability, supply and support capacity, we can sustain the aviation capability much longer on station.

The ship recently completed its builder trials and is awaiting its acceptance trials, to demonstrate its capability to the US Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) and these are currently scheduled for January 2014.

According to a NAVSEA press release:

The future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) completed builder’s trials Nov. 9, marking a significant milestone as the ship progresses toward acceptance trials and delivery to the Navy. 

The trials took place off the coast of the Huntington Ingalls Industries’ shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. 

USS America during its builder trials. Credit: Huntington Inngalls, November 2013.
USS America during its builder trials. Credit: Huntington Inngalls, November 2013.

“The ship performed well at sea and largely exceeded my expectations. The state of completion is right where it should be for builder’s trials,” said Capt. Chris Mercer, Amphibious Warfare program manager for the Program Executive Office, Ships. “Our joint government and industry team comprehensively tested every aspect of the ship’s equipment and systems, and the results leave us with a clear path to a successful acceptance trials and delivery next year.” 

America will be the first of the Navy’s next generation of “big deck” amphibious ships that are designed to replace the aging Tarawa class. This new class has been designed to accommodate the future needs of the Marine Corps’ aviation combat element with additional aviation maintenance capability, increased fuel capacity and a significant increase in available stowage for parts and support equipment.

According to Captain Hall, the team had just completed the builders trials in early November.

He clarified that a builders trial is when the shipbuilder takes the ship out for the first time and turns all the equipment on and pushes it to various limits.

We are onboard as observers and to do assessments, but not operate the ship.  That is done by the shipbuilder. The ship maneuvers very well for a large ship.

The purpose is to discover any anomalies which need to be dealt with prior to the acceptance trials by the US Navy.

He underscored that:

The builders trials went well and put us on a good path to the acceptance trials towards the end of January.  During those trials the USN will determine what anomalies remain to be dealt with prior to final acceptance.

If all goes well, we should take possession of the ship in late March or so.  Then we focus upon the crew certification process. 

Of course, we have been doing a lot of training preparation as well for this phase.

The crew of more than 1,000 will prepare to operate the ship and to leave for our homeport in San Diego.

We are looking forward to the ship commissioning in San Francisco in the Fall and then on to our first tour.

He addedthat “this a big ship and unlike my destroyers handles quite differently.  But the two gas turbine engines provide significant improvements in engine responsiveness over the old steam engines.  We can start up the engines within 5 minutes to get underway.”

Having two shafts is a nice thing to have over the single screw ships of the past.

Of course, challenges can get in the way of the schedule but the USS America is coming to the fleet.

When you have as large and as complex a ship as this challenges remain.

But the shipbuilder and the Navy have incorporated many lessons learned from building the USS Makin Island. 

And the team is already applying lessons learned from the USS America build to the USS Tripoli which is being built now.

And when Captain Hull and his crew get to sea that is when the innovation of interest to the USN-USMC team gets underway.

“Shaping the con-ops of a ship like this is a continuous development process and we are eager to get started.”

For earlier pieces on the USS America see the following:

For a look at the hybrid engines aboard the USS America see the following: