After the little bit of good news about the Air Force's F-35As potentially coming in a little bit cheaper, we have some more good news from the Marines! The USS America (LHA-6) - the first of a new America-class amphibious assault ship - is finally (probably) ready for action!
The America, which was commissioned in October of 2014, has spent the last 40 weeks undergoing construction and upgrades for...you guessed it...operating the F-35B.
It seems that the USS America, while it was designed from the outset to house the USMC's F-35 variant, had to have an alarming amount of additional upgrades done shortly after being built, in order to operate the aircraft that it was designed for. These upgrades, while seemingly small - additional structural members and deck coatings to handle the high heat from the F-35's engine as well as relocating communications antennas and equipment and other components away from the hot exhaust as well - may seem trivial, but adding structural members or increasing the deck thickness involves removing and/or rerouting numerous ventilation, lighting, wiring, plumbing, and mechanical systems - all of which may have required additional modifications to other components. No wonder these upgrades took almost an entire year to complete!
The America also has some additional modifications from typical amphibious assault ships - mainly the removal of the well deck, which is used for the launching and recovering of hovercraft and beach landing craft. The second America-class ship, the USS Tripoli, slated to enter service in 2024, will also have its well deck removed and will also need the same modifications to its flight deck to support the F-35B. These modifications make both of these ships more aircraft carrier than amphibious assault ships, and will likely be the only two America-class ships modified in this way.
Lets hope that the previous 40 months of modifications fixed whatever problems the America had!