The America-class is a relatively new class of U.S. Navy warships.
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With two Americas active and 11 planned, the America-class will likely be a staple of U.S. force projection for the foreseeable future.
Replacing the Wasp-class, the America-class is a set of landing helicopter assault, or LHA, type amphibious assault ships. “America-class ships will facilitate forward presence and power projection as an integral part of joint, interagency, and multinational maritime expeditionary forces,” Military.com reported.
The program has origins dating back to 2001; development began in 2005, and construction of the first America-class ship began in 2008.
The first ship in the class, the America, or LHA-6, was commissioned in October of 2014 and now serves from its home port in Nagasaki, Japan. The second ship-in-class, the USS Tripoli, or LHA-7, was commissioned in July 2020 and now sails from a homeport in San Diego, California. LHA-8, the USS Bougainville, was laid down in March 2019 but has not yet been launched.
All three ships were built by Huntington Ingalls at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The upcoming vessels, LHA-9 and LHA-10, are scheduled to be built at Ingalls, too.
While the Navy will operate the America, the ship is designed to transport U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Units from sea to shore. The America, an LHA, will facilitate troop movement with helicopters and V-22 Osprey V/STOL aircraft.
Supporting the troops and transport aircraft will be AV-8B Harrier II jump-jets, the F-35 Lightning II B-variant (the STOVL variant), and attack helicopters. More precisely, the America is expected to be able to carry twelve Osprey, six F-35Bs, four Ch-53K heavy transport helicopters, seven AH-1Z/UH-1Y helicopters, and two Navy-operated MH-60S Knighthawks (for search and rescue).
Although aircraft configurations can be adjusted to fit the needs of specific missions; the America can carry as many as twenty Harriers or F-35Bs when needed.
One Class Lends Design to the Next
Serving as the design inspiration for the America is the USS Makin Island, which is an upgraded version of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. The Makin Island – and the America – use gas turbine power, specifically, JP-5 fuel.
Conveniently, the Harrier jump jet and the Osprey tiltrotor craft both use JP-5 fuel, too. The America will rely on a CODLOG hybrid-electric propulsion system, much like the one used on the Makin Island.
Under the hybrid system, the ship will use gas turbines at high speed and diesel-electric engines in other situations. “This unique auxiliary propulsion system was designed for fuel efficiency,” Military.com reported. “Instead of using main propulsion engines to power the ship’s shaft, the APS uses two induction-type auxiliary propulsion motors powered from the ship’s electrical grid.” The America can achieve speeds of 20 knots or more.
Well Built for the Future
Forthcoming America-class ships, starting with the third-in-class USS Bougainville, will feature a well deck for waging amphibious warfare. Located in the stern, the well deck will hold landing craft, like the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC).
By adding a well deck, the new Americas will feature less space to accommodate aircraft. But former Secretary of the Navy, Robert O. Work, felt an amphibious warfare ship without a well deck wasn’t fit to perform amphibious warfare.
The in-service Americas are impressively armed. In addition to the mixture of attack aircraft, the LHA carries two RAM launchers; two NATO Sea Sparrow launchers; two 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts; and seven twin .50 caliber machine guns.
The America-class ships will join a U.S. fleet that should play an increasingly relevant role to U.S. military doctrine as the U.S. pivots to Asia in an effort to balance against China’s rise. China’s rise of course is manifesting, in part, with one of history’s most prodigious ship-building efforts. The America-class is likely being designed with a U.S.-China confrontation, perhaps in the South China Sea, in mind.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.