Bringing more than a dozen of the F-35B jets aboard Tripoli for flight operations – a number that could grow to 18 or 20 this week –isn’t just about breaking records and a photo opportunity.
The Marines of Marine Aircraft Group 13 (MAG-13) broke a record on Mar. 3, 2022 when they loaded the most 16 F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters ever aboard a big-deck amphibious warship, USNI News reports.
The fighters aboard USS Tripoli (LHA-7), the Navy’s newest big deck amphibious warship, belong to two operational squadrons — the “Vikings” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225 and the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, both based at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, Ariz. – and to Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1, based at Yuma and New River, N.C.
But bringing more than a dozen of the F-35B jets aboard Tripoli for flight operations – a number that could grow to 18 or 20 this week – along with 500 Marines isn’t just about breaking records and a photo opportunity.
“The way we’ve fought over the last 20 years obviously has been a different model. There have been a lot of different squadrons doing a lot of things in the Middle East as needed, as directed,” said Col. Chad A. Vaughn, commander of MAG-13, based at Yuma.
But adversaries in today’s existing threat and the future fight are much more capable in the air than any the US aviators have faced in the past. Squadrons must be capable of fighting in more and larger higher-level joint operations, officials say.
The last time MAG-13 fought as an air group was 2003.
The “Lightning Carrier” concept has been tossed about for years by Marines and the F-35 program office. “It just worked out perfectly with the opportunity for us to practice and train with the MAG,” Vaughn said, adding that operational testers with VMX-1 are aboard Tripoli this week evaluating lessons learned from the F-35B operations.
The concept takes a page from history. In the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) and USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) were dubbed the “Harrier carriers,” each supporting two squadrons of AV-8B Harrier attack jets for Commander Task Force 51 as U.S. and combined forces pushed toward Baghdad. The ships at the time typically had a detachment of Harriers among an aircraft mix composed largely of Marine Corps helicopters.
Tripoli is an America-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in July 2020. The ship is homeported in San Diego and operates under commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3.
Tripoli is the second LHA to be delivered to the Navy, and the third in naval history to bear the name which harkens back to the first US battle fought on foreign soil. The name Tripoli was previously assigned to a Casablanca-class escort carrier which saw service in the Second World War. Later, the first amphibious assault ship with the name USS Tripoli (LPH 10) served in Vietnam and during the Gulf War.
Tripoli was built in Pascagoula, Mississippi, by Huntington Ingalls Industries.
Tripoli, the only America-class amphibious assault ship in San Diego, joins the Wasp-class large deck amphibious assault vessels USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Boxer (LHD 4), USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), and USS Makin Island (LHD 8). As the largest amphibious ship on the waterfront, Tripoli serves as an LHD variant designed to accommodate the Marine Corps’ future Air Combat Element (ACE) including the F-35B Lightning II and MV-22 Osprey.
The week-long event, slated to wrap up Thursday, is about putting MAG Marines and Tripoli sailors through the paces in launching, recovering, moving, maneuvering and working on the F-35B jets aboard the ship.
Questions remain how the Lightning Carrier concept will operate in the fleet without a capability to tank F-35Bs organically or without airborne early warning aircraft like the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aboard. According to USNI News there is set to be broader testing with the concept later this year.