2017-01-30 The USMC is the only tiltrotar-enabled assault force in the world.
The USS America has been built to facilitate this capability and will be augmented as the F-35B is added to the Ospreys, and helicopters already operating from the ship and as unmanned vehicles become a regular operational element as well.
To set the proper landscape to discuss the changes within aviation and the amphibious fleet, one can go back a decade ago and look at the aviation and ship pairings and their operational reach.
The ARG-MEU a decade ahead operated within the LPD-17, without the T-AKE ship, without the Osprey and was primarily a rotorcraft, landing vehicle and mixture of Harrier fast jets force. And the three ship ARG-MEU would operate largely in a 200-mile box affecting the objective area where it was located.
The Osprey has obviously been a game changer, where today, the ARG-MEU can “disaggregate” and operate over a three-ship distributed 1,000-mile operational area. Having the communications and ISR to operate over a greater area, and to have sustainment for a disaggregated fleet is a major challenge facing the future of the USN-USMC team.
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 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.
This graphic focuses upon the USS America deck synergy and the workflow thereby facilitated. Credit: Second Line of Defense
In Corps Report video below, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepares for deployment with the USS America (LHA-6).
This is the largest US LHA ever built.
The USS America can sustain as many aircraft as can the entire current fleet of amphibious assault ships.
As Todd Miller put it after he visited the USS America last Fall:
The USS America (LHA-6) a maritime base, provides unrivaled flexibility.
Park it where you want in international waters. Forward deploy it to a region for any contingency, and a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is at the ready. The LHA platform is ideal for military operations involving troop insertion, (anti-terrorism activities) where the objective is to infiltrate, accomplish the mission and leave no boots behind on the ground.
The LHA offers the flexibility to adjust mix from heavy jet (F-35B) to heavy tiltrotor (MV-22B) or rotor wing. Utilizing the MV-22B and the F-35B, the USMC can effectively insert troops 450 miles from the ship in under 2 hours.
The platform offers the flexibility to work together with additional amphibious assault carriers (LHD) when amphibious vehicles are desired, as well as with the support of the USN Supercarrier.
Not a replacement for either, the LHA provides flexibility for the military to tailor a force most suitable for the mission at hand.
In an interview with the Deputy Commandant of Aviation, Lt. General Davis, the forthcoming contribution of the USS America was highlighted.
The MV-22 is an incredible platform, it can go a long way at a high rate of speed, it can receive air refueling, and it can be configured to provide air refueling.
It can move Marines, and (configured) it can pass fuel to other MV-22’s or F-35s. That is a tremendous capability for the Marines and the Naval services.
These ships are designed for amphibious operations, MAGTF operations with the standard mix of Marine units that will go out (Marine Expeditionary Units – MEU), but occasionally we need to configure this to be jet heavy or helicopter heavy. In this case, this is a jet heavy deck. We could take up to 20 F-35Bs onboard, we put 12 on this time.
This is a 5th Gen strike capability that the nation does not currently have from a sea base. It is a tremendous capability. We had Vice Admiral Rowden (Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, Commander Naval Surface Forces) onboard today.
One of the things we did as part of this test was the AEGIS integration with the F-35B. That’s a big deal.
That’s a big deal for our Nation, our Navy and our Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps is a force that fights across the range of the military operations, and this could be something that a combatant commander, or a fleet commander decides that we need to be able to do for a time.
Like we did during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where I think we had 4 decks loaded up with Harriers. We sailed over with helicopters on board and then flew Harriers in and flew off those ships because that was the best way for us to operate.
We have published many pieces on the USS America and its role as a cutting edge platform to shape new capabilities for the insertion forces.
Some of these are as follows: