Video Above: F-35s to Europe
The second US Navy America-class amphibious assault ship has now launched the 5th-generation F-35Bs, adding additional vertical-launch stealth power to maritime operations.
The first of the Navy’s emerging fleet of America-class amphibs, the USS America, has been operating for several years now. The ship has conducted missions with more than 13 operational F-35Bs on board, demonstrating substantial 5th-generation air power at sea. Now the second ship in class, the USS Tripoli, is joining the USS America as an F-35B-armed amphib. A write up from the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office says this flight marked the “first time F-35s have operated on the USS Tripoli.
The JPO says the USS Tripoli is operating in the US 3rd Fleet, an area which encompasses the Central and Eastern portions of the Pacific.
F-35B Tripoli Launch
Interestingly, the launch of an F-35B from the Tripoli signifies the success of specific Navy efforts to build F-35B accommodations into the ship during construction.
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During the F-35Bs initial operations from the USS America, the Navy realized that certain structural adjustments were necessary to ensure that the 5th-generation aircraft could launch and land effectively from the deck of the America. Specifically, the flight deck needed additional non-skid materials to ensure it could handle the heat of an F-35B vertical take off and landing.
As part of this adjustment, the Navy also added reinforced structures at several places below the deck. The non-skid material is designed to safeguard the flight deck such that it can accommodate the take off and landing without getting damaged. After making a series of flights from the Tripoli, the F-35B received its fixed-wing certification.
The arrival of the F-35B is expected to reshape amphibious warfare tactics due to its stealth, computing and drone-like sensing ability. Moving into the future, amphibious warfare is expected to be much different in coming years as new technology continues to shape concepts of operation.
Attacks are less likely to be linear beach assaults like the US Marine Corps attack in Iwo Jima but rather more dispersed and disaggregated, yet enabled by long range sensors and precision weapons. With the arrival of the F-35B, amphibious maneuvers can now operate with stealthy close-air support, something which has not existed throughout history until now.
With F-35B air support, an amphibious advance would no longer need to only rely upon suppressive fires from deck-mounted ship guns but can move forward with precision fire from F-35 guns, precision air-to-ground missiles and even longer-range air dropped bombs.
F-35s could destroy entrenched on-shore guns intended to fire upon attacking forces from the ocean and also search for and destroy land-based enemy missile launchers. This kind of multi-domain amphibious assault can make an attacking force much more likely to succeed in establishing and securing a beachhead for shore attacks.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.