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Why the US Marine's Very Own F-35 Could Be a Battlefield Game Changer

The Navy is getting ready to launch its now 56-percent complete second next-generation America-Class Amphibious Assault ship with specific built-in modifications designed to accommodate the emerging Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter - the F-35B. 

The future USS Tripoli will formally launch sometime next year, Christianne Witten, spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior in a statement.  

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 amphib; the Tripoli is slated to deliver in 2019. 

"The super modules have been integrated," she added. 

 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, Witten explained.

"These improvements are being incorporated into the basic build of LHA 7, which is expected to yield a better overall technical solution at reduced cost. Additionally, the LHA 7 design will incorporate the Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services (CANES) and will address fact-of-life and obsolescence instances identified throughout construction of LHA 6 and LHA 7," she 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 Marine Corps short-take-off-and-landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B, could be the first ever fifth-generation aircraft in the world to deploy when they serve on board several amphibs in 2018, Marine Corps and Navy leaders told Scout Warrior.

(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.)

The technological modifications are already complete on the USS Wasp, an operational Navy amphib; they are now underway aboard the USS America and USS Essex while also being built into the USS Tripoli, Navy officials said.

“We have one ship that is fully modified (USS Wasp). LHA 6 (USS America) has received many of the upgrades and is receiving the rest of the upgrades now. USS Essex upgrades are beginning in 2016 and we will phase the other LHD (Navy amphibs) through these modifications in coming years,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Owens, Director of Expeditionary Warfare, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year. 

Navy engineers and shipbuilders are doing 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 ship is slated for full operational deployment with the F-35B in the future.

The USS America will undergo 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 are installing 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 said.  

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,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told Scout Warrior in an interview.

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, Burns explained.

“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,” she added.

Some of these sensors include the F-35s Distributed Aperture System, which places 360-degrees worth of cameras around the aircraft, and a high tech targeting sensor called EOTS, or Electro-Optical Targeting System. The aircraft’s computers also allow for something called “sensor fusion,” a technology which integrates information from a host of different sensors on-board a single screen for pilots to view.

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 is 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.

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