The U.S. Navy has identified “several specific initiatives on the flight deck” of landing helicopter dock (LHD) amphibious assault ships the service says the vessels will need to accommodate the F-35.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, acknowledged Wasp-class ship modifications have been designed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) vertical lift-and-takeoff variants.
“We did some mods on the Wasp,” Greenert said at a media briefing during the International Maritime and Defense Exhibition (Imdex) Asia 2013 in Singapore.
Navy officials say the modifications “are intended to offset the increased stresses associated with JSF exhaust. The exhaust patterns and flight characteristics of the F-35 required the shielding, relocation and removal of vulnerable systems that could sustain damage during flight operations, such as antennas, life rafts, life rails, safety nets and JP-5 fuel stations.”
Additionally, the Navy says, “The unique heat signature of the F-35 has required reinforcement of the flight deck to alleviate stresses from the heat of the jet, as well as modifying the flight deck coating to reduce erosion caused by jet exhaust associated with increased thrust. Specific system modifications that are unique to F-35 will also require the installation of new voltage regulators and rectifiers. Expanded mission capabilities of the F-35 have also required enhanced munitions throughput and systems capabilities to facilitate increased ordnance delivery and aircraft associated support equipment.”
Some of the detailed modifications include relocating or shielding features such as the Phalanx close-in-weapon system and Rolling Airframe Missile and NATO Sea Sparrow missile launchers, and protecting fueling stations.
The WSC-8 satcoms antenna will also be moved, and the aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) system is being expanded.
The changes confirm that Lockheed Martin and the Marine Corps issued erroneous statements in early 2010 regarding the environmental effects of the F-35B’s exhaust. At that time, a company spokesman said that “extensive tests” had shown that “the difference between F-35B main-engine exhaust temperature and that of the AV-8B is very small, and is not anticipated to require any significant CONOPS changes for F-35B.”
The Navy has not disclosed how long it will take to implement the modifications across the LHD/LHA fleet. The F-35 program schedule calls for the first Marine F-35B unit, VMFA-121, to be ready for a “contingency deployment” by late 2015. However, there is no firm date for a second squadron.