Early this coming April, United States Marine Corps F-35Bs from three squadrons will converge aboard the USS Tripoli (LHA-7) to fully test the 'Lightning Carrier' concept. The idea to basically turn big-deck “Gator Navy” amphibious assault ships into light aircraft carriers packed with F-35Bs first emerged five years ago, but it has its roots in AV-8 Harrier operations going back decades.
In the test, a total of twenty F-35B Lightning IIs will conduct operations in various scenarios from the USS Tripoli. The squadrons that will form the nucleus of the twenty aircraft are Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1 Mihi Cura Futuri ('MV-5x'), Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 Wake Island Avengers ('CF-xx') and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225 Vikings ('CE-xx') all from Yuma MCAS (AZ).
Back in 2019, the US Navy and USMC tested the Lightning Carrier concept of packing an amphibious assault ship with F-35Bs. Lightning carriers will provide a significant potential to expand naval firepower. The amphibious assault ships could be incorporated into carrier task forces to boost airpower, or they might be deployed in separate amphibious readiness groups to disperse the force for increased survivability and lethality.
The relatively new USS America, and now its sister ship, the USS Tripoli, do not feature a floodable well deck like their counterparts. Instead, they were designed with more space to accommodate aircraft like the F-35B and everything that comes with operating them, like fuel, maintenance personnel, spaces and equipment, and munitions.
The upcoming at-sea period will see the largest number of F-35s ever put to sea eclipsing the 18 operated from HMS Queen Elizabeth. Colonel Benjamin “Brutuz” Hutchins who currently serves as the Air Warfare System TACAIR Branch Head at the Pentagon said “The Lightning Carrier concept is one that has been kicked around for a while and is actually a test point that they are finishing on OT-1 (Operational Test-One) with COTEF (Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force).”
“This is a CATF-led testing event to determine the feasibility of 20 F-35Bs on board an LHA/LHD type ship. We see this as a demonstration event. It is going to allow them the ability to gradually replicate the ability to learn the lessons on how to spot, taxi and recover and launch with that many aircraft and learn how to use the hanger from the spotting perspective so we can maximize efficiency and understand the ops tempo of the ship going forward.”