by Kris Osborn
The future USS Tripoli, has now launched into the water from the dry dock to float for the first time, service leaders said.
The Tripoli, now called LHA 7, is a follow on ship to the USS America - the first in a fleet of planned new America-Class amphibs engineered to address the future of amphibious warfare and the fast-changing threat landscape.
The America-Class amphibs are designed with specific built-in modifications designed to accommodate the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter - the F-35B.
"We've made tremendous progress on Tripoli over this past month, completing two major production milestones," said Capt. Scot Searles, Amphibious Warfare deputy program manager, Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships, said in a written statement. .
After delivery of LHA 6 (USS America), a group of changes to the ship’s flight deck structure and equipment were necessary to accommodate the Joint Strike Fighter F-35B aircraft.
These improvements are being incorporated into the basic build of the Tripoli. The Tripoli design will incorporate the Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services and will address fact-of-life and obsolescence instances identified throughout construction of LHA 6 and LHA 7, Navy officials said.
Thus far, the Navy and Marine Corps have made progress with a series of extensive preparations on board amphibious assault ships in order to ensure that their flight decks, sensors and weapons systems can accommodate the first ever deployment of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter slated for 2018.
The technological modifications are already complete on the USS Wasp, an operational Navy amphib; they are also operational aboard the USS America while also being built into the USS Tripoli, Navy officials said.
Navy engineers and shipbuilders have recently done extensive work on board the USS America, the lead ship in a series of 11 planned America-class big-deck amphibs.
The USS America, or LHA 6, was commissioned by the Navy October of 2014 and has completed a trail period known as “post-shakedown availability” and gone on missions to South America to connect with key allies.
The USS America underwent a series of intense modifications in order to ensure that the weapons and sensors and synchronized with the Joint Strike Fighter and that flight deck can withstand the heat of the F-35B vertical take-offs-and-landings.
Navy engineers installed a new heat-resistant thermally sprayed non-skid, which is designed to prevent long-term heat damage to the flight deck and underlying structure, adding intercostal structural members below landing spots seven and nine. This reduces stress on flight deck, and integrating the flight deck with support equipment, sensors and weapons.
“With the added structure, these two landing spots will provide the capability to perform closely timed cyclic flight operations with the F-35B without overstressing the flight deck,” a Navy official told Scout Warrior last year.
Also, some of the modifications may involve re-adjusting some of the ship’s antennas in order to allow for a clear flight path for the JSF.
Once operational on Navy amphibs, the F-35B will conduct a wide range of missions to include support for amphibious ship-to-shore operations, ground operations, close-air support and what’s called “suppression of enemy air defenses."
At the same time, the advanced sensor suite and computers on the Joint Strike Fighter will allow for a greater range of missions compared to traditional fighter jets
The F-35B will also be used as a C2 (Command and Control), limited offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance, service officia.ls have said
Sensors, combat systems, radars and weaponry on board amphibs are also being upgraded to better integrate with the F-35.
America-Class Amphibious Assault Ships
Much of the effort with the USS America included going inside the ship and dropping lighting and ventilation and piping wiring and everything down far enough so new material can be installed and welded in place, senior Navy officials said.
The America class is intended to operate for sustained periods in transit and operations in an Amphibious Objective Area to include embarking, transporting, controlling, inserting, sustaining and extracting elements of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force and supporting forces by helicopters and tilt rotors supported by Joint Strike Fighters F-35B, a Navy official added.
Overall, the USS Tripoli will be 844-feet long and 106-feet wide and have a weight of more than 44,000 tons. A fuel-efficient gas turbine propulsion system will bring the ship’s speed up to more than 20 knots, a Huntington Ingalls statement said.
The ship will be able to carry a crew of 1,204 and 1,871 troops, meaning the ship is being engineered to carry a Marine Expeditionary Unit, the statement added.
America class ships are outfitted with a group of technologies called a Ship Self Defense System. This includes two Rolling Aircraft Missile RIM-116 Mk 49 launchers; two Raytheon 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts; and seven twin .50 cal. machine guns, Navy officials said. The USS America recently conducted a live-fire test of its Rolling Airframe Missile. LINK to Scout Warrior Story on the Live Fire Test HERE
Unlike previous amphibious assault ships, the first two America-class big deck amphibs are being built without a well deck in order to optimize the platform for aviation assets such as the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B. The ship is configured with more deck and hangar space for aircraft and is designed to maximize the technological advantages provided by the F-35B and Osprey.
One of these strategic advantages, among other things, is described as vertical maneuver – the ability to use the range and speed of the Osprey to forward project mobile units deep into hostile territory possibly behind enemy lines, Navy and Marine Corps units have described.
The third America-class amphib, called LHA 8, will feature the return of the well deck.
F-35B Will Change Tactics and Procedures on Amphibs
Part of the challenge to F-35B integration is recognizing how its technologies will change concepts of operations, tactics and procedures; the F-35B is a very different aircraft than the Harrier jets it is replacing, Navy officials said.
Harrier jets, which also have the ability to conduct vertical take-off-and-landings, are multi-role jets primarily designed for light attack missions – such as quickly flying over land locations where Marines are forward deployed and providing close air support.
While the F-35B can perform these missions as well, the new Joint Strike Fighter brings a wide range of new sensors, weaponry and aviation technology to the Corps.
These F-35B sensors, which include a Distributed Aperture System placing cameras around the aircraft to provide a 360-degree purview as well as Electro-Optical Targeting Systems; these sensors, among others, will allow the F-35B to perform ISR missions as well as strike and ground support.
The C5I (command, control, communications, computers, collaboration) requirements for the F-35B will be very different than how the Navy operated the Harrier.