USS America (LHA-6)
USS America (LHA-6) off Rio de Janeiro in August 2014
|Awarded:||1 June 2007|
|Builder:||Huntington Ingalls Industries|
|Laid down:||17 July 2009|
|Launched:||4 June 2012|
|Sponsored by:||Lynne Pace|
|Christened:||20 October 2012|
|Acquired:||10 April 2014|
|Commissioned:||11 October 2014|
|Homeport:||San Diego, California|
|Status:||in active service|
|Class and type:||America-class amphibious assault ship|
|Displacement:||44,971 long tons (45,693 t) full load|
|Length:||844 ft (257 m)|
|Beam:||106 ft (32 m)|
|Draft:||26 ft (7.9 m)|
|Propulsion:||Two marine gas turbines, two shafts, 70,000 bhp (52,000 kW), two 5,000 hp (3,700 kW) auxiliary propulsion motors.|
|Speed:||over 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph)|
USS America (LHA-6), the fourth American warship to be named for the United States of America, is the first of the America-class amphibious assault ships for the U.S. Navy. She was delivered in spring of 2014, replacing Peleliu of the Tarawa class. Her mission is to act as the flagship of an expeditionary strike group or amphibious ready group, carrying part of a Marine expeditionary unit into battle and putting them ashore with helicopters and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, supported by F-35B Lightning II aircraft and helicopter gunships.
The ship's design is based on USS Makin Island, but to allow more room for aviation facilities she does not have a well deck, and has smaller medical spaces. With a displacement of 45,000 tons, she is as large as the aircraft carriers of many other nations, and can fulfill similar missions when configured with 20 F-35B strike fighters.
The design is based on USS Makin Island (LHD-8), itself an improved version of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. Approximately 45% of the Flight 0 design is based on Makin Island, with the well deck removed to allow more room for aircraft and aviation fuel. The removal of the well deck for landing craft allows for an extended hangar deck with two significantly wider high bay areas, each fitted with an overhead crane for aircraft maintenance.
These changes were required in order to operate the F-35B and MV-22, which are considerably larger than the aircraft they replace. The typical aircraft complement is expected to be 12 MV-22B transports, six STOVL F-35B attack aircraft, four CH-53K heavy transport helicopters, seven AH-1Z/UH-1Y attack helicopters and two Navy MH-60S for air-sea rescue. The exact makeup of the ship's aircraft complement will vary according to the mission. America can carry 20 F-35B and 2 MH-60S to serve as a small aircraft carrier as demonstrated by LHD operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Other enhancements include a reconfigurable command and control complex, an on-board hospital, additional aviation fuel capacity (1.3 million gallons of JP-5), and numerous aviation support spaces.
America will be modified in a similar way to the modifications made on USS Wasp to make her better able to withstand the great amounts of heat generated by the F-35B's engine exhaust when taking off or landing vertically. Intercostal structural members will be added underneath flight deck landing spots seven and nine to more closely perform timed cyclic flight operations without overstressing it. Other changes may involve re-adjusting some ship antennas to allow for a clear flight path. The ship will undergo a 40-week modification period where recently installed piping, lighting, and other features will be removed to weld reinforcements underneath the flight deck; the modification period would have been greater if its construction when in the shipyard had been interrupted to perform it. Such accommodations will be included in all future America-class ships from the start.
The America class has an increased aviation capacity to include an enlarged hangar deck, realignment and expansion of the aviation maintenance facilities, a significant increase in available stowage for parts and support equipment and increased aviation fuel capacity. However, the ship's design represents a major departure from past designs and has been the source of considerable controversy, as it lacks the capabilities and multi-role flexibility of traditional amphibious ships, including the ability to launch landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles, such as the AAV-7. Some have even argued that America represents a "dead end" as an amphibious ship. In fact, the Navy is building only one other ship (Tripoli) to the LHA-6 blueprint. At issue is the focus on aviation capabilities, at the expense of the "well deck", which is the defining feature of the amphibious fleet and allows Marine Corps amphibious operations. The Marine Corps Commandant and the Chief of Naval Operations have signed an official Memorandum of Agreement that restores the well deck to LHA-8 and subsequent ships, while in 2015 the Commandant of the Marine Corps launched an initiative to ensure aviation platforms do not lead to an imbalance in the MAGTF.
The U.S. Navy awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation's Ingalls Shipyard Division a $2.4 billion fixed-price incentive contract for the detailed design and construction of LHA-6, primarily at the company's shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The production decision was made in January 2006 and construction of LHA-6 began in December 2008. Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter announced in June 2008 that the ship would be named America. The keel-laying ceremony was held on 17 July 2009 with delivery originally planned for August 2012. The ship was launched on 4 June 2012, and christened on 20 October. She took to the sea for the first time on 5 November 2013, for five days of builder's sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico, and completed acceptance sea trials in February 2014.
America departed in commission without ceremony from Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on 11 July 2014 in transit to its homeport of San Diego, California. The ship earned commission status after the crew successfully completed the light-off assessment, anti-terrorism force protection certification and crew certification.
America arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 5 August, and the local press was invited to a guided visit that happened the next day. She arrived at her home port of San Diego, California on 15 September 2014. During transitions around South America, America's mission was to connect with regional allies, conducting joint exercises with Colombia, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru involving security and communications operations, as well as medical asset coordination and mission planning activities. The ship carried three SH-60 Seahawk helicopters of HSC-21 and four MV-22 Ospreys of VMX-22, which flew into countries and transported distinguished visitors to the ship. It is planned to embark the F-35B JSF for America's first operational deployment.
USS America was commissioned on 11 October 2014 in San Francisco as part of the activities of San Francisco Fleet Week 2014. The Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus was the featured speaker.
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