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America-Class Amphibious Assault Ship: The U.S. Navy’s Mini Aircraft Carriers?

amphibious assault ship
Image: Creative Commons.

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,” reported.

Turn-of-the-Century Fleet

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,” 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.

U.S. Navy

BALTIC SEA (Aug. 24, 2022) A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) flies past U.S. Navy Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handler) 1st Class Tu N. Chau during flight operations aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), Aug. 24, 2022. The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 22nd MEU, under the command and control of Task Force 61/2, is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by U.S. 6th Fleet to defend U.S., allied and partner interests.

US Navy Buzzwords

STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Aug. 4, 2021) The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) transits the Strait of Hormuz, Aug. 4, 2021. Iwo Jima is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Logan Kaczmarek)

USS Wasp

(Oct. 4, 2007) – U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263, Marine Aircraft Group 29, prepare for flight on the deck of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is on surge deployment to the Middle East carrying the Osprey to its first combat deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary L. Borden (RELEASED)

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.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a 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 has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.