US Navy’s aviation-specialized amphibious assault ship USS America has staged flight operations with US Marine Corps aircraft, including the F-35B fifth-generation fighters, during a transit of a contentious South China Sea region.
Sailing together with guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) and guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52), USS America operated in the vicinity of a standoff between Malaysia and China some 200 nautical miles off the coast of East Malaysia. The tensions started last year after Malaysia started exploration activities in the mineral-rich region, prompting China to intensify coast guard and maritime militia patrols.
The daily flight operations saw F-35Bs complete qualifications and mission rehearsals, with control support from sailors and marines aboard the America. The Navy-Marine Corps team ensures the Air Combat Element is primarily focused on Marine Air-Ground Task Force operations in support of ground and combat landing force missions, and defense of the amphibious task force, according to Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st MEU.
“Our F-35B’s multi-role fighter capability is a crucial component of the 31st MEU’s ability to rapidly deploy combat power in support of our Marine Air-Ground Task Force and Naval integration throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” said Brodie.
With short takeoff and vertical landing capability, the F-35B fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft deploys rapidly from amphibious shipping to support area denial, long range reconnaissance and fire support, according to Capt. Luke Frost, commanding officer of the America.
“This credible capability in the South China Sea demonstrates our enduring seven-decade commitment to the prosperity and security of the Indo-Pacific,” said Frost.
While the USS America is on operations in the South China Sea, Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan is underway in the Persian Gulf where, most recently, marines embarked aboard the ship began sustainment training on Karan and Kurayn islands in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.