The US Navy and Marines recently conducted the largest test of the “Lightning carrier” concept by putting an unprecedented number of F-35s out to sea aboard the USS America.
Thirteen F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122 trained aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America in the Eastern Pacific, the Navy revealed in a statement this month.
“This was the deployment of the largest number of F-35s ever put to sea,” Lt. Col. John Dirk, the commanding officer for VMFA 122, said of the training that took place earlier this month. “For two weeks, we put sortie rates to the test, deck cycles to the test, and multi-ship control to the test, all while stressing the communication links and tactics that will make us successful in any combat environment, anywhere in the world, as a joint Navy-Marine Corps team,” he added.
USS America is a new class of large amphibious ships designed to carry a large air wing consisting of short-takeoff-vertical-landing fighter jets and various rotary aircraft. The America, like its sister ship the Tripoli, is a flattop well-suited to such operations, which is why the Navy and the Marines have been looking closely at these ships as a test bed for the Lightning carrier concept. The Lightning carrier is a rebranded version of the “Harrier carrier” concept involving AV-8B Harrier jump jets that served the military for decades.
“While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier,” the Marine Corps said in a 2017 report, “it can be complementary if employed in imaginative ways.” Therefore, these carriers could be used to augment the carrier force, especially at times when the Navy’s aircraft-carrier fleet is facing readiness concerns.