2016-11-27 By Todd Miller
The fourth ship to carry the name, the USS America (LHA-6) serves as the flagship for a new class of amphibious assault ships that is built specifically to support “aerial assault.”
The LHA class utilizes the area on assault ships typically occupied by the “well deck” to provide additional hangar space, increased are for shipborne aviation maintenance, and additional aviation fuel and weapons stores.
It was fitting that the F-35B would complete its Development Testing (DT-III) on an advanced US Navy (USN) platform named “America.”
The two platforms (United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B Lightning II and USN USS America) represent a quantum leap in Marine aviation capability, particularly when considered in combination with the MV-22B Osprey, AH-1Z, UH-1Y and incoming CH-53K.
Pilots, engineers, maintainers and personnel from VX-23 (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron) of NAS Patuxent River, MD flew across the country with their two heavily instrumented F-35Bs for the shipboard DT-III late October through November 17, 2016.
They were joined by aircraft and personnel from VMX-1 (Marine Operational Test and Evaluation squadron) to support the maintenance phase of DT-III.
VMX-1 also participated in operational activity in preparation for the F-35Bs first shipborne deployment in about a year.
DT-III evaluated and validated the Short Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) performance of the F-35B in high sea states, with full weapons loads (external & internal), with asymmetric loading (including taking off with a full load of externals, jettisoning one side and landing), live weapons and night operations.
Onboard maintenance activities involved the entire replacement of an engine, driveshaft and lift fan on one of the VMX-1 aircraft.
After replacement, the VMX-1 aircraft was flown off the deck.
USMC VMX-1 Commanding Officer, Col. George “Sack” Rowell, noted that the F-35B will equal or exceed the shipborne operational capabilities of the AV-8B Harrier in high sea states. Flight operations took place in winds of up to 47 knots from various angles, a deck roll of 5° and deck pitch of 3°. Maintenance work was accomplished (albeit with challenges) while the ship was rolling 9°!
DT-III was a great success achieving primary DT-III flight test points as well as numerous additional milestones for the F-35B;
- Shipborne integration of Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) V.2
- Engine, driveshaft and lift fan removal and replacement aboard a L-Class ship
- Live ordnance operations with the F-35B aboard a ship (from ship to MCAS Yuma Range)
- F-35B integration with USN AEGIS validated
- Operational Test aircraft flew Block 3F software at-sea
- 1st Royal Navy pilot F-35B carrier qualified
- Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) utilized for shipborne landing
- Use of night vision goggles (NVG) for landing
- Link-16 Integration with a variety of aircraft
The success of the tests validates the Marine Corps experience with the aircraft to date.
USMC Lt. General Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation Marine Corps captured that experience,
I’d deploy tomorrow.
The commanding officer (CO) of VFMA-211 is chomping at the bit, he would deploy them.
So would the CO of VFMA 121.
They are ready.
These airplanes are highly capable and ready to go.”
The potent USMC/USN amphibious assault platform of F-35Bs, MV-22Bs, AH-1Z, UH-1Y and in years to come CH-53K will soon be sailing the seas.
It is natural to recognize the platforms support of a broad spectrum of military operations and missions.
However, it is important not to overlook the role the assault carriers (LHD) platforms have historically played and will continue to play; keeping sea lanes free and open for movement of global commerce, and supporting delivery around the globe of humanitarian aid following natural disasters.
The ongoing success of the USMC introduction of the F-35B fleet speaks to a certain reality.
In short order, the USS America (and companion ships) will be a foreboding presence to some and a welcome friend to others!
The Second Line of Defense team wishes to thank Sylvia Pierson, and Brandi Schiff, JSF/JPO PA; Capt. Sarah Burns & 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, USMC PAOs; Captain Joseph R. Olson, Commanding Officer of the USS America and entire crew; Lt. General Jon M. Davis, USMC Deputy Commandant for Aviation; and USMC VMX-1 Commanding Officer, Col. George “Sack” Rowell.
The photos and video were provided by the USN-USMC team.
For the companion piece by Todd Miller on his time on the USS America, see the following:
For earlier pieces on the USS America, see the following:
The shift in the concepts of operations seen onboard the USS America is the focus of our book published three years ago.