While the US Navy evaluates the potentially catastrophic damage to the fire-ravaged Wasp-class amphibious assault carrier – the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in San Diego, it has now also received its newest America-class air assault carrier, the USS Tripoli (LHA-7).
The impressive new ship’s timely commissioning is a slight consolation considering the severe impact of losing the Bonhomme Richard may have on the Navy’s plans to expand aviation assets in the Pacific to counter China – which I described earlier.
The ship was commissioned in a low-key virtual ceremony last week. Tripoli will be based at San Diego Naval Base, California, along with the damaged Bonhomme Richard. Task and Purpose reported the commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group 3, Rear Adm. Philip E. Sobeck’s, commissioning remarks:
Congratulations to Tripoli’s crew for all of your hard work, amidst these challenging times, to reach this milestone. We welcome you to the amphibious force of combat-ready ships and battle-minded crews to go to sea and support sustained combat operations.
Task and Purpose also notes that the Tripoli is the third Navy ship of that name commemorating the Marines’ victory – along with soldiers from 11 other nationalities – at the 1805 North African Battle of Derna, during the First Barbary War. This victory was later memorialized in the Marines’ Hymn with the line, “to the shores of Tripoli.”
Tripoli is 855 feet long, displaces approximately 44,000 tons fully loaded, and is operated by a crew of 1,000. The ship can transport almost 1,700 Marines and their aircraft, explains Popular Mechanics, and is “armed with two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, two Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile launchers, two 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts, and seven twin .50 cal. machine guns.”
The Tripoli is similar to the charred USS Bonhomme Richard in its ability to get Marines ashore, but unlike the Bonhomme Richard, the Tripoli is designed to launch troops only by air.
Wasp-class ships have full-length flight decks, island bridges, and hangars to support MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor assault transports, CH-53E Sea Stallion heavy lift helicopters, and AH-1Z Cobra gunships, but they also included a floodable well deck to launch amphibious tracked vehicles (Amtraks) as well as LCAC hovercraft with M1A1 Abrams tanks—to hit the beach.
The USS America, and USS Tripoli, on the other hand, eliminated the ability to land Marines by sea, opting instead to significantly beef up the ship’s aviation capabilities by increasing its hangar, aviation support services, and the amount of aircraft fuel and munitions the ship can carry. The Tripoli, like its sister ship the America, are the first US ships designed from scratch to fully support F-35B Lightning IIs.
The Bonhomme Richard was completing a needed two-year, $250 million upgrade to fully integrate the vertical/short take-off and landing (VSTOL) F-35B jets – the Marines’ version of the Joint Strike Fighter.
Due to its aviation-centric design, the Tripoli is capable of acting as an ad hoc aircraft carrier – or “Lightning Carrier” to provide extra carrier-based firepower. As I described earlier, its sister ship America was recently operating with an Australian Navy frigate in the eastern Pacific with 13 F-35Bs on her flight deck, more than twice as many as normally embarked.
Despite this, the Navy has since re-evaluated its decision to make America-class LHAs only aviation capable. The US Naval Institute notes that the Tripoli, “will be the last in the class to be built without a well deck. As part of a redesign of the America class, the next ship, Bougainville (LHA-8), will include the well deck and capability to launch surface connectors to bring Marines ashore.”
This should continue to allow the ships to serve as F-35B Lightning Carriers, while maintaining a sea launched ship to shore capability as well.
While we wait to understand the full impact of possibly losing the USS Bonhomme Richard, it’s good to know that the USS Tripoli is now ready to deploy to the Pacific to face China.