Impressive: The Marines Will Use the F-35B to Create Smaller Aircraft Carriers

David Axe

Key point: The Marines have many amphibious assault ships and they have flattops. With a V/STOL aircraft like the F-35B, the Marines could make those ships into small carriers.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Wasp in March 2019 deployed to the Indo-Pacific region with no fewer than 10 F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters on board. An assault ship usually embarks just six F-35s or older AV-8B Harrier jump jets.

In sailing with nearly twice as many vertical-landing fighters than is normal for an assault ship, Wasp is helping to prove a concept the Marine Corps seriously has been mulling over for years now -- transforming amphibious ships into light aircraft carriers.

It's an idea that's gaining credibility as the Navy considers cutting the number of large carriers in the fleet.

For years the normal air wing for the Navy's eight Wasp-class assault ships has included around 10 MV-22 tiltrotor transports, four AH-1Z attack helicopters, four UH-1Y light helicopters, five CH-53E heavylift helicopters and the six fighters, plus a couple of Navy MH-60s for search and rescue.

But the L-class Wasps were capable of trading helicopters for fighters. During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, four assault ships each embarked up to 20 Harriers in order to contribute to the coalition air campaign.

"This is not the norm for an amphib," Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate Wynn Young, leading chief petty officer of USS Bonhomme Richard's air department, in 2003 told a Navy reporter. "Our air assets dictate that we operate more like a carrier."

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