Military Aviation

USS Tripoli amphibious assault ship completes Lightning Carrier Concept demo with 20 F-35B Joint Strike Fighters aboard (almost as many jets as on Chinese Carriers)

The Lightning Carrier concept demonstration shows that Tripoli and other amphibious assault ships are capable of operating as dedicated fixed-wing platforms when needed.

Taken on Apr. 7, 2022 the photos in this post feature USS Tripoli (LHA-7), an American-class amphibious assault ship, returning to port at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California. The Tripoli supported the launch of 20 F-35B Lightning II jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons 211 and 225, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, 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., as part of the US Marine Corps’ Lightning Carrier concept demonstration.

The Lightning Carrier concept demonstration shows that Tripoli and other amphibious assault ships are capable of operating as dedicated fixed-wing platforms when needed, capable of bringing fifth generation short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft wherever they are required.

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.

The Navy’s nine amphibious assault ships primarily carry helicopters and tiltrotors along with half a dozen vertical takeoff jets. But with 20 of the new stealth jets aboard, an amphibious ship becomes a mini aircraft carrier.

According to Times of San Diego, at 20 F-35B Lightning II jets, the Tripoli has a smaller complement than the 85 to 90 aircraft carried by a nuclear-powered Nimitiz-class supercarrier, but almost as many jets as on Chinese carriers.

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As already reported, 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.

Not only is the F-35B the most versatile and technologically advanced aircraft in the skies today, it will also be replacing three legacy Marine Corps platforms; the AV-8B Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet, and the (already retired) EA-6B Prowler.

The Marine Corps’ version of the Lightning II was designed to be a short take-off and vertical landing aircraft, or STOVL. This function allows the aircraft to use expeditionary airfields to refuel and reload, which can be established anywhere.

Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rachaelanne Woodward

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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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