2014-11-06 VMX-22 flew to USS AMERICA and worked with the crew in shaping an initial maintenance regime aboard the ship.
The ship has a hanger bay below the flight deck where maintenance is performed, unlike legacy large deck amphibs.
The AMERICA class ship has a much larger hangar bay that conducive to conducting maintenance that otherwise would have to be conducted on the flight deck..
This means among other things, when the weather gets dicey, aircraft can be put below deck to protect them from natural elements, avoiding the risk for repair due to damage from the weather as compared to remaining on the flight deck on legacy amphibs.
As we wrote earlier:
A major change in the ship can be seen below the flight deck, and these changes are what allow the assault force enabled by new USMC aviation capabilities to operate at greater range and ops tempo.
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 bay 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.
In an interview with the ship’s Captain, Robert Hall, just prior to the departure in mid-July from the Ingalls Huntington shipyard in Pascagoula Mississippi, the CO highlighted some of the ship’s capabilities:
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.
The ship has three synergistic decks, which allow for a significant enhancement of the logistical or sustainment punch of the amphibious strike force.
According to 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.
In an interview with the CO of VMX-22, Col. Robert L. “Horse” Rauenhorst, the CO provided an update on the experience about the USS America.
Question: How was your time aboard USS AMERICA, especially maintenance-wise?
Maintenance wise, the hangar bay provided two dedicated spots to perform maintenance with the wings spread, as compared to legacy amphib ships with only one dedicated spot in the hangar bay.
Additionally, when we encountered heavy sea states, freezing rain and snow in and around the Straits of Magellan, we were able to hangar all 11 aircraft, including four CH-46s from HMM-364 and three SH-60s from HSC-21, to protect them from the elements.
Once clear of the weather, the Air Boss was able to quickly return the aircraft to the flight deck and resume normal flight operations, that otherwise would have been delayed in de-icing the aircraft.
The Marines onboard were really impressed with the size of the hangar bay and being able to do maintenance in protected spaces, rather than having to do it on the flight deck as before on legacy large-deck amphibs.
Question: How is the berthing and comfort level for the crew?
Col. Rauenhorst: “It is very similar to legacy large-deck amphibs.”
Question: Clearly, then the difference is in the capability of the ship and the ability to operate aircraft off of the ship?
The fuel capacity onboard the ship far exceeds the legacy amphib ships.
As Captain Hall mentioned, USS AMERICA has the capacity to carry a lot more JP fuel as compared to legacy amphibs with a well deck.
And with the efficiencies of the USS AMERICA’s generators and not operating off of the turbines, the ship was still able to operate at 12-13 knots while conducting flight operations and ultimately saving money in operational terms of efficiency.
Question: What was it like to work with Captain Hall?
Bob was really good to work with.
He was really excited to have Marines come onboard because he had never deployed with Marines before.
It was a very good working relationship and am very proud to have served with him and his crew.
Question: The crew included some veterans but many were newbies. I would guess that the crew over all found the trip around South America and operating the ship really a great experience?
The crew was super motivated to the get the aircraft onboard the ship and to operate it.
We did a crawl, walk and run set of phases as we were settling into the flight operations, starting off with day and night Carrier Qualifications (CQ) off the coast of Pensacola.
And then by the end of the deployment, Captain Hall had a very seasoned crew there that were doing both tilt rotor and rotary-wing day and night operations without a flaw, from launch and recovery of aircraft that included air traffic control in international airspace throughout the Caribbean, Central, and South America.
Question: What kind of reception did you get during your port visits in South America?
It was the first time that the MV-22 has deployed to the Caribbean, Central, and South America, except for the VMM-365 deployment Belize a couple of years ago.
But all the countries that we went to, it was the first time that the Osprey touched soil in Columbia, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, and El Salvador.
The reaction was of real interest, and as one person put it to me “it is like an airplane out of the movie the Transformers!” Referring to the MV-22 transitions from helicopter to airplane mode and vice versa.
Senior leaders in the region were very interested in the time/distance equation in terms of how quickly the aircraft could take off, transit, and then land in difficult terrain.
Notably, the Brazilians were very interested in the airplanes because of the scope of their country, and the need to operate into the Amazon regain.
It takes them a long time to get their logistics resupply and fuel out there to use helicopters in the Amazon as their means of transportation.
And in practical terms for us, we were able to fly in Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) teams 350 miles prior to the ship arriving as well.
It gave the Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Ground Task Force-South (SPMAGTF-South) an additional day on the front and back side of USS AMERICA’s visit at each country in building partner nation’s capacity and conducting subject matter exchanges that otherwise would have been shorter in duration with legacy aircraft.
Question: How would you sum up what you see as the advantage of the tiltrotar enabled USS AMERICA as an assault ship?
We have a lot more flexibility.
When you get into that 1200-mile range or less, and you combine with the organic capability of the KC-130s, you have a powerful moving forward-operating base that can extend the operational reach for the Marine Corps.
Question: Is VMX-22 moving to Yuma this summer, and you are in the throes of getting your F-35Bs. So what are the next steps?
We are on schedule to receive four F-35Bs by this summer at Edwards AFB, and eventually 6 when the detachment moves to Yuma.
We are supporting the digital interoperability across all type model series of aircraft to include Unmanned Aerial Systems and Marine Air Command and Control Systems.
The priorities of Lieutenant General Davis, the DCA are current readiness, future readiness, and then digital interoperability.
What we are working now is how do we integrate and share information with the F-35, MV-22, CH-53, UH-1, AH-1, MQ-21, and A/NTPS-80 through a common operational picture while supporting the Marines on the ground with real-time or real-near time information.
We are working experimentation, tactical demonstrations, and operational testing and evaluation of those digital interoperability systems.
We are basically refining how we share and move information.
Not only amongst the aviation platforms, but determine how do we get that information to the Marines on their tablets, whether they are in the back of an assault support aircraft or in the objective area so that everyone’s working from a common operational picture with increased situational awareness.
Note: The photos provided in the initial slideshow have been by the CO of VMX-22. The second slideshow shows the USS America during its visit to Chile and the photos are credited to the USS America.