The U.S. Navy’s second F-35 stealth jet fighter-armed America -class amphibious assault ship is taking massive new steps to prepare for war through a special combat readiness phase called a Fitting Out Availability, one of several key steps in a warship’s development just prior to deployment.
Similar to the first-in-class USS America, the USS Tripoli has been engineered with a specific F-35 and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft-oriented aviation configuration with extra hangar space, additional fuel storage and other key provisions intended to enable amphibious air-attack platforms.
While the third America-class amphibious assault ship, the now under construction USS Bougainville, brings back the classic well-deck characteristic of many big-deck amphibious assault ships, the first two seem clearly intended to optimize the increased ranges and amphibious attack variables introduced by the arrival of the F-35B stealth fighter jet.
Navy engineers added special coating materials to the USS Tripoli’s deck in order to mitigate any possible heat damage caused by the vertical-take-off and landing F-35B. Structural elements of the ship were also modified to ensure the vessel could fully and properly accommodate the F-35.
Since this time, which included reinforcements of part of the ship’s structures, the Navy has made additional adjustments to the ship’s configuration to optimize F-35B functionality.
“With its enhanced JSF capability, this ship meets the operational needs of today, while providing capacity for the future fight,” Capt. Cedric McNeal, program manager, Amphibious Warfare Programs, said in a Navy report.
There are a variety of key ways the arrival of an F-35 will shape amphibious warfare, as any ship-to-shore attack is completely changed with the support of fifth-generation aircraft to destroy enemy on-shore defenses, conduct forward intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and provide close-air-support for attacking amphibious forces.
The USS Tripoli is 844 feet in length, has a displacement of approximately 44,000 long tons, and will be capable of operating at speeds of over 20 knots. Navy reports explain the USS Tripoli as a ship which incorporates a gas turbine propulsion plant, zonal electrical distribution and electric auxiliary propulsion systems designed to be fuel efficient.
Following the current war preparation phase, the ship will go through what is called “sea trials” to validate performance, assess navigation, refine computing systems and test weapons.
Following Sea Trials, the ship will enter its Post Delivery Test and Trials phase, followed by Final Contract Trials with the Board of Inspection and Survey and what the Navy calls Post Shakedown Availability before being sent to war.
The arrival of the USS Tripoli is part of a broader Navy initiative to massively expand its fleet of amphibs in coming years. A significant and potentially lesser recognized element of the Navy’s recently unveiled 2020-30 shipbuilding plan in its call for a full-scale “doubling” of its fleet of amphibious assault ships by 2050, a move which suggests that the Navy expects ship-to-shore operations and major maritime attack to figure prominently as a very high priority in coming years, a factor which might further explain the F-35B emphasis being placed upon the America-class ships.
The Navy plan stipulates that its fleet of amphibious assault ships will increase from thirty-one in 2022 to sixty-two by 2050, a huge force-size increase which likely pertains to the Navy’s plan to initiate a new class of smaller, faster and more agile amphibious assault ships. The text of the document says the plan “initiates the Light Amphibious Warship program in FY2022 and the Next Generation Logistic Ship program in FY2023 to support a more dispersed naval operating concept.”
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.