MELBOURNE, Australia — The U.S. Navy plans to bolster its forward-deployed amphibious forces in Japan with two ships, on of which is a new amphibious assault vessel designed to operate a larger aviation component.
The U.S. 7th Fleet, based at Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Japan, announced Friday that the amphibious assault ship America and the landing platform dock New Orleans will become part of the forward-deployed naval forces in Sasebo, Japan.
Heading back to the United States will be the guided-missile destroyer Stethem, which will shift its home port to San Diego, Califronia, for its midlife modernization, and the amphibious assault ship Wasp, which will change its home port to Norfolk, Virginia, to undergo scheduled maintenance.
The transfer of the two amphibious ships bring the number of such U.S. vessels based in Japan to four, with Lt. Joseph Keiley, a spokesman for 7th Fleet, confirming to Defense News that “USS New Orleans will join the other ships in Sasebo and is not replacing Ashland, Germantown or Green Bay.”
A 7th Fleet news release revealed the moves, although an earlier post on the social media page of the Wasp suggested it will return to the United States later this year, and it had earlier been reported that the America will arrive in Japan in 2020.
The America is one of two vessels of a new class of aviation-focused amphibious assault ships built with increased jet-fuel storage, aircraft-maintenance space and equipment compared to the earlier Wasp-class ships. The upgrades enable the America to carry more than 20 Lockheed Martin F-35B fighter jets, or a smaller number of the jets alongside the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor and other helicopters.
However, the increased aviation capacity of the new class comes at the expense of well dock used to stow and operate landing craft, but the New Orleans’ move to Japan will ensure 7th Fleet’s amphibious forces won’t see its number of ships equipped with a well dock reduced.
This latest home port shifts come in the wake of an increased focus on training for high-intensity conflict with a near-peer competitor by U.S. Marines in Japan, which included the Iwakuni-based Marine F-35B squadron rehearsing the Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept off Okinawa earlier this year.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.