The U.S. Navy’s third America-class amphibious assault ship is midway through its construction. The warship, named USS Bougainville (LHA-8), will feature a well deck in the stern to better support amphibious assault operations.
The first two America-class amphibious assault ships, USS America (LHA-6) and USS Tripoli (LHA-7) were built without a well deck to maximize space devoted to flight operations. Those two ships leverage the capabilities of the new F-35B vertical take-off and land variants.
The Bougainville is slated to arrive in 2025. The America and Tripoli are referred to by the Navy as the America class’ Flight 0, while the Bougaiville is considered part of Flight I.
“While reintroducing the well deck, we also continue to retain that optimized aviation footprint that was reflected in LHA-6 and LHA-7, making for a significantly capable, amphibious, large deck assault ship going forward into the future,” Capt. Cedric McNeal, Amphibious Warfare Program Manager, Naval Sea Systems Command,said at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium.
That means that the Bougainville will support F-35 operations and other aircraft in addition to its traditional ship-to-shore role that is enabled by the well deck. Navy developers sought to achieve this capability without increasing the size of the ship.
“Staying within the footprint that we have, we've had to relocate some spaces, tweak some spaces, but ensure we maintain that capability set from Flight 0,” McNeal said.
LHA-8 is built with other design features to include additional ICU-capable hospital beds, X-ray rooms, and an on-board surgical team. The ship is also receiving a Raytheon-built A/N SPY 6 v3 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar to support air and cruise missile defense. This EASR radar is also fielded by the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers.
The Navy’s fourth America-class amphibious assault ship is also moving along with its development. An advanced planning contract is already in place with Huntington Ingalls Industries. The service plans to award its LHA-9 production contract in 2023. Similar to the Bougainville, LHA-9 will incorporate the Flight I well-deck configuration.
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.