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Written and produced by SF Team: Brian Kalman, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson
The USS America LHA-6 successfully completed combat systems ship qualification trials (CSSQT) on February 3rd, in preparation for its first overseas deployment at the head of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit/Amphibious Ready Group (MEU/ARG).The vessel went to sea several times in January to conduct training exercises in the run-up to its future deployment, testing different mixes of aviation assets to be fielded on the new class of ship. The USS America is classified as a Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA), and lacks a well deck to launch and recover LCACs or AAVs. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps have to determine exactly how to best utilize the new vessel as an integrated component of an MEU/ARG.
There was no small amount of controversy over the new vessel when it was first proposed. Many senior officers in the USMC argued that an amphibious assault ship meant to head an MEU/ARG must have amphibious assault capability. Without a well deck, the new LHA cannot launch and recover marines via LCAC hovercraft, LCU landing craft or AAVs, and thus it possesses no inherent amphibious capability. This renders the vessel less flexible than a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) of comparable size, such as the USS Wasp Class. This new class of LHA will use the added space traditionally taken up by a well deck and heavy vehicle stowage for increased aircraft hangar space, and storage for aviation maintenance and fuel. The America will allow for the accommodation of an Air Combat Element (ACE) that is larger in number and of a different mixture of aircraft than a traditional MEU/ARG.
In apparent recognition of the need to remedy the lack of flexibility inherent in the current design, and to bring the America class back in line with the traditional USMC mission, only the USS America LHA-6 and the USS Tripoli LHA-7, which is currently under construction, will be built absent a well deck. Although larger in dimensions and displacement, the remaining six vessels planned will be brought more in line with the USS Makin Island LHD-8 from which it was originally based; however, their well deck will be smaller in size. In order to make up for the lack of amphibious capability of the USS America, the smaller amphibious vessels comprising the MEU/ARG will have to bear the responsibility of transporting the heavy equipment that marines may need to bring to any potential fight. Although equipped with some internal cargo and vehicle stowage space, the America can only discharge vehicles and stores while docked at a prepared shore facility. Lessons learned from the first overseas deployment of the vessel later this year, may result in the decision to add one additional LPD to any MEU/ARG fielding an LHA to bring amphibious strength up to an acceptable standard, or mandating that the LHAs must only be added to a traditional MEU/ARG if the mission calls for supplemental aviation capability.
The controversy surrounding the USS America LHA-6 and USS Tripoli LHA-7 is only exacerbated when considering the aviation elements that the vessel was designed to employ. The flight deck, internal hangars and elevators were designed to accommodate the V-22 Osprey and the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Both aircraft have been the source of controversy for a multitude of reasons. Both aircraft programs have incurred massive cost overruns, have failed to perform as promised, and in the case of the Osprey, have achieved an infamous safety record. A total of 36 fatalities are associated with the aircraft, although 30 of these occurred in incidents and crashes prior to the aircraft becoming operational in 2007. After almost two decades of development, which incurred a cost overrun of 40% more than originally budgeted, the V-22 Osprey costs approximately $100 million USD per aircraft. By contrast, an MH-60S Seahawk or CH-53 Sea Stallion each costs roughly $28 million USD per unit; however, the V-22 achieves three to four times the range of either traditional rotary wing aircraft and can carry a far larger payload than the MH-60S.
The controversy surrounding the F-35 JSF is well known. The cost overruns, faulty systems, and poor performance of this $1.3 trillion USD and climbing aircraft program are embarrassing enough; however, flight testing of both the V-22 and the F-35 on the flight deck of the USS America have revealed that the deck may not be strong enough to withstand the high heat unleashed by their engines during continuous flight operations. This shortcoming will have to be remedied by strengthening the America’s flight deck and reengineering the flight decks of all following vessels in class, adding significant cost. The AV-8B Harrier, used by the USMC for over 30 years, has one Rolls Royce F-402-RR-408 vectored thrust turbofan that produces 23,500 lbf. of thrust. The F-35B Lightning II uses the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, which can produce a maximum of 50,000 lbf. of thrust. The aircraft uses approximately 40,000 lbf. of thrust when taking off vertically.
The USS America will have to prove that it is not a dead-end in naval design. As the premier fighting force of the U.S. military services, and true to the unofficial motto, “Improve, Adapt and Overcome”, the USMC will work with any assets at their disposal. They will most likely excel, but until the vessel is proven in an actual military or humanitarian operation, the efficacy of such a design will be hard to determine. A return to a more balanced and flexible LHA design with the completion of USS Bougainville LHA-8, will eventually give the U.S. Navy and USMC a chance to compare the two vessels, put them both through their paces, and decide if the USS America was worth her $3.4 billion USD price tag.
The wisdom of providing a very specialized platform to carry U.S. Marines, who train to excel at all forms of warfare, whether by land, sea, or air, is questionable. The USMC has proven the most resistant of all U.S. military branches to misguided Department of Defense mandated changes in recent decades, and will undoubtedly continue to resist changes that they deem counterproductive to the Corps and their mission. In the meantime, they will do the best job they can with the tools they have been given.
Interesting analysis. The America design, with it’s all aviation component, appears to be for specific airborne raiding. These types of carriers are not anything new, the usn and the rn have been operating these type of ships since the 1950s. Called helicopter carriers, these were initially older carriers either too small for an effective modern fixed wing air compliment, or those deemed surplus or not worth the necessary modernisation, but still too young too send to the breakers.
Odd they named the ship America, given that despite the “aircraft carrier” looks, the ship is no capital ship. In fact, it is essentially an auxiliary.
“After almost two decades of development, which incurred a cost overrun of 40% more than originally budgeted, the V-22 Osprey costs approximately $100 million USD per aircraft. By contrast, an MH-60S Seahawk or CH-53 Sea Stallion each costs roughly $28 million USD per unit; however, the V-22 achieves three to four times the range of either traditional rotary wing aircraft and can carry a far larger payload than the MH-60S.”
There is more to it than that. The v-22 is considered a medium lift aircraft from what they are able to carry (# of troops, weight of cargo), yet they need the space of a heavy lift helicopter, which carries more, obviously, with regard to shipboard storage and operation. This was one of the initial reasons the aircraft design was unwelcome back in the 1980s. Others were it was more vulnerable to defensive fire and anti-air missiles (I remember an argument then with a marine reservist helicopter vet, 2 tours in Vietnam, about this pork barrel on these aspects. He thought they could simply dispense flares and chaff to avoid the vulnerability problem).
The v-22 was used in the recent Yeman disaster, proving how unsuitable the aircraft is in the air assault role in a contested environment. The v-22 can not survive the level of damage a helicopter can and remain airborne, and helicopters, especially american ones, are extremely vulnerable in seriously contested conflicts, anyways. Look at the ukronazi helicopter ops against Novorussia, they were quickly shut down once Novorussians got AD.
But with a price tag of $100 mil, buy them by the 100s, america, just like the f-35. Your faith in these turds being able to deliver your zionazi massa’s goals of total world domination is everywhere in sync with your very conscious right wing dumbing down strategy of returning the brain dead population back to the level of the pathetic sheep they were in the 1950s.
My gut feeling is that both Aircraft Carriers and this Amphibious Assault Ship are yesterday,s ideas for doing things. The next war will not be sending men “Over the Top”
Those Osprey Troop Carriers are too sophisticated and deadly when they have problems. To rely on many of them as a way to get the troops where they are needed is not cost effective or reliable. One aircraft does not deliver that many at a time. More aircraft means more possible problems.
Large ships are yesterday’s targets for modern missiles.
You are spot on. Hypersonic missiles like Russia’s Zircon, that can hit Mach 5/6 on final approach, will quickly eliminate them. Even if they are hit (by luck) the kinetic energy of the missile parts will cause significant damage. This scenario applies to all US surface ships. These missiles can be launched outside the range of any current defensive systems. The US babbles on about lasers but the real challenge is seeing, acquiring, plotting and then firing on a target that is moving at multiple times a rifle bullet.
Although I am no expert in photonics nor advanced electro-optical signal processing, from what I can tell the issue is not hitting the missile per se, it’s transmitting enough heat wattage on the surface of, you guessed it, a highly heat-resistant design. The fundament attributes of laser weapons being a light beam (faster than a bullet in all mediums) and high speed optical tracking (ghz speeds but coupled with predictive algorithms to shoot where the object is headed) I do not believe are an issue. Especially if the power projected is additive as more systems are built and take part in shooting at the missile.
Optical or radar tracking. I think radar which means if the design is small enough radar tracking is difficult. In any manner, a zircon missile probably equates to the value of a ship of that design in price or allocated technical development and severely limits the offensive capabilities of Russia if used against a cash-rich nation like the US empire on her offensive coastal ships. In fact, it is probably strategically dumb to not use them to threaten a population center or ICBM silo instead.
These ships are sitting ducks for hypersonic missiles and the such. But for bullying third world countries, they do the job. It is not a question of can you attack the vessel, but do you want to go to war with the United States.
The arguments brought forth are actually rather dated. The design of this warship is to promote the F-35. The USS America is similar in this regard to the Japanese Helicopter Destroyers and the South Korean vessels of this type . The concerns voiced by the Marine brass are justifiable because it limits their overall capability , but apparently Lockheed-Martin is more important .The best ship in this Class is by far the Mistral Class . The Russians knew this and so did the Neocons .
While strengthening the flight deck best also beef-up the shock absorbers on the F-35 nosegear for takeoff or have a contingent of therapists and doctors on board. See near the end and the video clip:
Actually, maybe they could keep the nosegear and redesign the whole airplane above it?
The USS America will have to prove that it is not a dead-end in naval design. As the premier fighting force of the U.S. military services, and true to the unofficial motto, “Improve, Adapt and Overcome”, the USMC will work with any assets at their disposal. They will most likely excel…
Oh how I love MIC jibber jabber — lol.
Makes it sound as though the god awful resources dedicated to these pointless and maniacal weapons systems have a purpose beyond feeding the beasts of war.
They do not.
Please name 1 — just ONE, out of the hundreds of interventions made by the Empire since WW2 that was made for to benefit of normal people like me and you or say Panamanians, Grenadians, Libyans, Syrians or how about those Yemenis currently being i_n_t_e_n_t_i_o_n_a_l_l_y starved to death???
Here’s another I heard recently, don’t know if it’s true but I would not doubt it for a second — it will cost 600 times the resources necessary to solve all the world’s problems just to send a few tin cans to Mars.
Sounds like the latest Edsel.
It’s not just after WW2, even during WW2 the hype of air power was backed not by facts but by wartime propaganda. Media felt in love with stories of western allied air power destroying enemy. How about facts? In reality even mines destroyed much more German tanks than USAAF/RAF ground attack air power. Now new studies in West Point have made conclusions that it was artillery, not so media sexy weapon, playing much more crucial role in western front than air power (just like in eastern). They should have known it much earlier, all data was available. The irony here only European nations which have not lost faith on artillery are now – Russia and tiny Finland.
Every weapons platform built for the DoD has commonality: lack of capability, and questionable overall quality. From Zumwalt’s inability to fire anything costing less than what was it? 80k/round? To the F35 Flying Brick, to an amphibious ship with no amphibious capability.
Procurement is not about any DoD needs, it is about funnelling money into congressional districts.
This how you bankrupt a nation. If it ain’t already.
How is this an Amphibious assault ship considering it does not have amphibious assault launching capabilities??
Seems like our esteemed military leaders forgot the lessons of Somalia (or never learned them in the first place). It was the Marines leaving and taking their armor support with them that lead to the “blackhawk down” debacle. You don’t go into an urban warfare environment without armor support and think you won’t eventually pay the price for that in blood. You can do airstrikes all you want but if you can’t resupply your people and/or extract them, they will die.
Marines have always been poorly served by the MIC, so this is just another story consistent with that.
Ship to shore amphibious capability (away from port areas) still has many uses beyond combat operations, Haiti earthquake being an example I easily can recall.