USS America amphibious assault ship docks in Manila ahead of shoulder-to-shoulder drills
Stars and Stripes March 20, 2023
A U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship capable of operating with F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters docked in Manila over the weekend.
Photographs of the 844-foot USS America in the Philippines’ capital were tweeted by the Manila Bulletin on Sunday. The Sasebo, Japan-based flagship of 7th Fleet’s Amphibious Squadron 11 is in the islands ahead of next month’s annual Balikatan drills involving U.S. and Philippine forces.
The exercise, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog, involves thousands of U.S. troops from multiple service branches training alongside their Filipino counterparts. The drills will kick off April 11 and run through April 28, according to a Philippine Star report citing anonymous Armed Forces of the Philippines officials.
The Navy did not immediately respond to phone and email queries about the port call on Monday, and it is unclear if the warship will be taking part in the exercise.
Commissioned in 2014, the America has a crew of nearly 1,000 sailors and can embark about 1,700 Marines. Instead of a well deck to carry landing craft, it has a large hangar bay that provides 30% more storage space and can carry 250% more aviation fuel than a traditional flat-deck ship.
It was designed to maximize the capabilities of the Marine Corps’ F-35B, which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, allowing flat-deck ships like the America to act as small aircraft carriers.
In 2019, the USS Wasp became the first amphibious assault ship to take part in the joint Balikatan exercise in the Philippines with F-35Bs aboard. Last year, another amphibious assault ship, the USS Tripoli, operated there with the stealth jets during the annual Kamandag drills.
Photographs released by the service show F-35Bs from the Iwakuni Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 on the ship’s deck in the East China Sea on Thursday.
The fighters launched from another amphibious assault ship, the USS Makin Island, and landed on the America, refueled and returned to the Makin Island, the Navy said in a press release that day.
The F-35s joined up with EA-18G Growlers from Navy Electronic Attack Squadron 135, assigned to Carrier Air Wing 5, and trained with the guided missile-cruiser USS Shiloh and the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon, according to the release.
The Philippine government announced last month that it would add four installations to five sites in the islands where U.S. forces will have access under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
“These efforts are especially important as [China] continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters during a Feb. 2 press briefing in Manila.