BY ENS. HOLLY A. DOERR, SC, USN
USS America (LHA 6) is the fourth United States Navy ship to bear this name, and inherits and continues the proud tradition of distinguished service that has long been associated with ships carrying the name. Built in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and commissioned in San Francisco on Oct. 11, 2014, USS America is the Navy's newest and most technologically advanced amphibious assault ship. What makes the new class ship different from most landing helicopter dock amphibious assault ships (LHD class) is the aviation-centric design, the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter flight deck structure modification, and the fuel efficient auxiliary propulsion system.
Specifically engineered for aviation, LHA 6 was built without a well deck, allowing for a larger hanger bay to serve our country’s forward deployed needs through air assault from the sea. A larger hangar bay provides greater aircraft stowage capacity and supports increased maintenance functions. Similar to aircraft carriers, the Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department and Aviation Stores Division are co-located, resulting in decreased repair turnaround time and improved aviation support synchronization.
During the current post shakedown availability, USS America’s flight deck will be restructured to fully support the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, replacing the AV-8 Harriers. This will make USS America the first West Coast ship to be outfitted for the Joint Strike Fighter. The ship will also have the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) installed. ALIS is a health network system for the F-35B which relays maintenance issues from the aircraft to the ship, allowing the pre-positioning of parts before the aircraft lands, thus decreasing the time spent in maintenance and repair.
USS America’s unique propulsion system is an unprecedented step forward in reducing fossil fuel use and emissions. The ship uses a gas turbine propulsion plant, zonal electrical distribution system, and electric auxiliary system. This rare auxiliary propulsion system is designed for fuel efficiency. USS America demonstrated engineering proficiency and capability throughout its maiden voyage around South America, consuming 14,000 gallons a day using auxiliary propulsion modules compared to 45,000 gallons a day when using her gas turbine engines. This hybrid system can allow the ship to stay on station longer and/or travel farther between refueling, which results in fiscal savings and reduced environmental impact. Due to their outstanding program, USS America was selected for the Navy Community Service Environmental Stewardship Flagship Award for Large Sea Ships for 2014.
USS America is the future of the Navy, being the first step in the incremental development of the amphibious assault ships. The contract for LHA 7, USS Tripoli was awarded on May 31, 2012, and will be the continuation of the mission concepts and goals behind the design of the America-class. Like her three namesakes, USS America will help maintain the supremacy of our naval surface forces.