2014-06-20 On June 12, 2014, Second Line of Defense visited the USS America at the Ingalls Huntington shipyard in Pascagoula Mississippi.
The ship is to leave mid July for its initial homeport of San Diego and will travel around South America and visit along the way.
In addition to VIP visitors who will come to the ship by air or port visits, VMX-22, the experimental USMC aviation squadron will land its Ospreys on board and operate with the ship up to two months prior to the commissioning which will occur October 11, 2014.
Captain Hall, the CO of the ship, is quoted on the commissioning website as follows:
USS AMERICA (LHA 6) will be the fourth U. S. Navy vessel named after our country and will showcase the strength, resolve and commitment of a great nation.
She is characterized as an aviation-centric amphibious assault ship designed to operate the U. S. Marine Corps next generation of aircraft, the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and to support the Marines across the full spectrum of military operations.
AMERICA’S motto: “Bello Vel Pace Paratus”, translates to “Prepared in War or Peace”, representing the capability of this awesome warship to strike mightily in wartime, be a deterrent in peacetime, and to lead humanitarian and disaster response efforts in times of need. AMERICA will be a flagship for 21st century operations.
When Second Line of Defense last saw the ship was during the christening in October 2012.
The wife of the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Pace) was the ship’s sponsor and provided modesty and grace to the ceremony. She recognized the achievements of the past USS America and the veterans of the ship in the audience.
She also delivered one of the best lines of the day:
“I know you (the crew of the former USS America) would love the name to go to an aircraft carrier, but this ship is mini-aircraft carrier….”
The Commandant focused upon the meaning of the ship within overall national strategy.
He underscored that having the kind of forward presence, which the ship would provide, was crucial for influencing events and giving the President options to deal with crises. He cited the famous operations at the beginning of the Afghan war whereby the USN-USMC team went deep into Afghanistan from large deck amphibs and set up Camp Rhino.
The clear implication was that with the increased capability which new aviation will provide for this class of ship, one could expect more of this type of operational dynamic.
The Vice CNO (Admiral Mark Ferguson) who is a surface warrior focused on the importance of adding a surface ship of such size and capability to the fleet. He emphasized that global presence was built upon such capability being inherent within the fleet, and able to support the USN-USMC team.
In short, the day provided an opening on the era of innovation, which this ship will bring to the USN-USMC team, the joint commander, and to coalition operations.
Although it is called an LHA (Landing Helicopter Assault) ship it is not. It is moving far beyond what a helo amphibious ship can provide for operations and for assault from the sea.
And it is the lead ship in driving a new cycle of innovation for the USN-USMC team.
Captain Hall was interviewed during the christening ceremony and he highlighted the way ahead.
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.
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.
SLD: How would you describe the USS America?
Captain Hall: The USS America is a warship. It’s an amphibious class ship, but it’s a warship like any other and so mixing the communities together brings some core strengths together. I’ll have a lot of amphibious experience on the America with my crew and my expertise in the surface navy will help us to integrate much better as a team.
SLD: What are some of the core capabilities of the ship?
Captain Hall: 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…..
SLD: The ship is built to evolve over time with growth capabilities?
Captain Hall: We are configured to grow. We have excess space and six large generators onboard for power generation.
Looking at the ship from the outside, it is clearly large but the flight deck looks very similar to the LHA it is replacing.
But looks can be deceiving. Visiting the ship is a whole different experience.
The ship has three synergistic decks, which work together to support flight deck operations.
Unlike a traditional large deck amphibious ship where maintenance has to be done topside, maintenance is done in a hangar deck below the flight deck.
And below that deck is the intermediate area, where large workspaces exist to support operations with weapons, logistics and sustainment activities.
There are four aviation elevators on board, each of which can carry up to 12,000 pounds.
There is space to maintain and sustain the Osprey and the other aviation assets, and prepares for the coming of the F-35B as the ISR C2 asset taking the assault force to another level of capability.
After touring the ship, Captain Hall discussed the ship and its role moving forward.
The ship has several capabilities, which allow us to stay on station longer than a traditional LHA and to much better support the Ospreys and the F-35Bs which will be the hallmark of USMC aviation to enable long range amphibious assault. These aircraft are larger than their predecessors.
They need more space for maintenance and this ship provides it.
We have two high-hat areas to support the maintenance, one of them located behind the aft flight deck elevator to allow movement through the hangar.
We have significantly greater capacity to store spare parts, ordnance and fuel as well.
We can carry more than twice as much JP-5 than a traditional LHA.
Question: You are preparing to leave for your homeport. What are the plans in route?
Captain Hall: Our primary focus will be on training, flexing ship systems and partner nation engagement as we travel around South American to the Pacific. We’re going to bring some MV-22s as well as some SH-60 helicopters on board and be able to start working with the Marines on a smaller scale than we would with the full MEU on board.
Question: How would you describe the below deck support to the flight deck?
Captain Hall: I like the synergistic description.
The flight deck is about the size of a legacy LHA. But that is where the comparison ends. By removing the well deck, we have a hangar deck with significant capacity to both repair aircraft and to move them to the flight deck to enhance ops tempo.
With the Ospreys, we will be able to get the Marines into an objective area rapidly and at significant distances. And when the F-35B comes the support to the amphibious strike force is significantly enhanced.
And we will be able to operate at much greater range from the objective area.
With the concern about littoral defenses, this ship allows us the option to operate off shore to affect events in the littoral.
This is a major advantage for a 21st century USN-USMC team in meeting the challenges of 21st century littoral operatons.
Question: What about the crew? Are there many first time amphibious sailors on board?
Captain Hall: I’ve got a fantastic crew on board AMERICA. It is a mixture of veterans with new sailors. As far as the background of the experienced crew, they come from almost every community and platform to include carriers and amphibious ships.
The young Sailors know that this is an awesome warship and they’re excited to sail on her. They also know that it has different capabilities than earlier LHAs.
The crew and the Marines are pretty excited to get underway and see how well the ship is going to perform.
And I’m pretty excited to see the innovative approaches and ideas AMERICA facilitates with regard to amphibious ops and warfighting in general.
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