USS Wasp amphibious-assault ship to leave Japan for Norfolk sometime next year
By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2018
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — The Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious-assault ship will steam out of Japan sometime next year for a new homeport stateside.
The USS Wasp, which arrived at Sasebo Naval Base in January, is expected to leave for Naval Station Norfolk, Va., sometime next year, according to a messaged posted Dec. 4 on the ship’s official Facebook page.
The short deployment took many by surprise since the Wasp’s predecessor, the USS Bonhomme Richard, spent six years patrolling the Western Pacific out of Sasebo.
Lt. Cmdr. Russell Wolfkiel, a spokesman for Wasp parent unit Task Force 76, declined to provide specifics on exactly when the ship will depart or which vessel would be its replacement. He cited security concerns about troop movements in a phone call with Stars and Stripes on Friday.
The 844-foot flat deck Wasp is one of two amphibious-assault ships capable of embarking the Marine Corps’ fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter, which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings. The San Diego-based USS Essex is the only other amphibious ship that has conducted F-35B flight operations at sea.
The Bonhomme Richard returned to the United States to be outfitted with a new flight deck that will allow it to handle the F-35B. The flight deck requires a special coating to handle the heat generated by the fighter’s engine during landings.
Over the last year, the Wasp has set some historic milestones for the Navy’s amphibious fleet. The F-35B made its deployment debut aboard the Wasp in March, during the ship’s first mission after arriving in Japan.
The aircraft, from Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 121 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, helped test the Up-gunned Expeditionary Strike Group concept that pairs two guided-missile destroyers and the F-35B with a traditional amphibious readiness group.
Combining F-35Bs with the destroyers makes a strike group more lethal, Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, Task Force 76’s commander, told Stars and Stripes in April. The combination can hunt enemy submarines and ships and engage in surface-to-surface combat.
During its most recent regional patrol that began in August, the Wasp’s sailors and Marines were the first on scene after Super Typhoon Mangkhut struck the Northern Marianas in September. The crew helped restore power and clear roads after 100 mph winds downed trees and powerlines across the U.S. commonwealth.
The Wasp made global headlines in late September after being denied a port call to Hong Kong amid a tariff war between Washington and Beijing and sanctions over China’s purchase of Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.