The USS America was spotted at sea last month flying a Captain America flag during its participation in Cobra Gold 2020.
While some superhero flags might not seem appropriate during patrols in the Gulf of Thailand, it seems awfully fitting that she ship that shares a namesake with the legendary Marvel superhero would fly his banner. Captain America not only represents patriotic idealism in the face of danger, his shield also makes an important statement about his (and America’s) demeanor.
A shield is a decidedly defensive weapon, despite Cap’s ability to use it offensively to great effect. The USS America shares that distinction — maintaining a defensive stance, but wielding a great deal of offensive capability.
The amphibious assault ship, USS America, has made headlines recently as the test bed for the Navy and Marine Corps’ new “lighting carrier” concept. The flat-topped vessel isn’t large enough nor is it equipped with the gear it would need to launch sorties of the Navy’s carrier-based F-35Cs, but the Marine Corps’ short take off, vertical landing F-35Bs have proven highly capable of being launched and recovered by the ship.
“About nine months ago I was looking at … USS America, a terrific amphib ship, and said, you know what, why don’t we load this thing up with F-35 Bravos, put 20 F-35 Bravos on this, and make it quote/unquote a lightning carrier,” Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said last year.
The Navy believes this might be a step in the right direction in this era of hypersonic anti-ship missiles that have placed the future of large carriers like America’s Nimitz and new Ford-class vessels into question. As the Navy wrestles with budget constraints and an effort to grow the fleet in terms of both numbers and capabilities, there’s even talk of ending production of the new Ford-class carriers after just four are built.
The USS America is one of two aviation-focused amphibious assault ships in the Marine Corps’ stable, along with the USS Tripoli. What sets these ships apart from other non-carrier flat tops is the removal of a well deck to open up the interior for aircraft maintenance and the storage of equipment and ordnance. At 844 feet long and 106 feet wide, it’s likely large enough to be considered an aircraft carrier by other nations, but the U.S. is very picky about how we use the “aircraft carrier” title.
By law, the United States has to maintain eleven operational aircraft carriers to support our varied defense obligations around the world. The U.S. uses a strict definition of the term “aircraft carrier” in order to ensure smaller, less capable vessels aren’t shoe-horned in to the carrier ranks during times of budget constraints.