Marines carry out Test of ‘Lightning Carrier’ Concept by loading Record 16 F-35Bs Aboard USS Tripoli (the number of Lightning IIs aboard Tripoli could grow to 18 or 20 this week)

Marines carry out Test of ‘Lightning Carrier’ Concept by loading Record 16 F-35Bs Aboard USS Tripoli (the number of Lightning IIs aboard Tripoli could grow to 18 or 20 this week)

By Dario Leone
Apr 6 2022
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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.

Marines carry out Test of ‘Lightning Carrier’ Concept by loading Record 16 F-35Bs Aboard USS Tripoli (the number of Lightning IIs aboard Tripoli could grow to 18 or 20 this week)
An F-35B Lightning II aircraft attached to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 launches from the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA 7), April 2, 2022. VMFA-211 is embarked aboard Tripoli as part of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Lightning carrier concept demonstration. The Lightning carrier concept demonstration shows Tripoli and other amphibious assault ships are capable of operating as dedicated fixed-wing carrier platforms, capable of bringing fifth generation Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing aircraft wherever they are required. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Sypert)

“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.

Marines carry out Test of ‘Lightning Carrier’ Concept by loading Record 16 F-35Bs Aboard USS Tripoli (the number of Lightning IIs aboard Tripoli could grow to 18 or 20 this week)
PACIFIC OCEAN (Mar. 31, 2022) An F-35B Lightning II aircraft, assigned to Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1, takes off from amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA 7). VMX-1 is embarked aboard Tripoli as part of the Marine Corps’ Lightning carrier concept demonstration. The Lightning carrier concept demonstration shows Tripoli and other amphibious assault ships are capable of operating as dedicated fixed-wing carrier platforms, capable of bringing fifth generation Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing aircraft wherever they are required. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Maci Sternod)

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.

F-35B Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35B Lighning II VMFA-121 Green Knights, VK00, 169164 / 2015

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.

Lockheed F-35 Lightning II model
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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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