After more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Marine Corps is retooling and repositioning itself back to its traditional role of operating with agility from the sea. Instead of training almost exclusively to fight enemies deep inland, the new generation of Marine, in addition, is preparing for roles ranging from conventional warfighting, air assault and humanitarian assistance missions.
Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) is a new amphibious assault platform specifically designed for the Marine Corps in order to reposition and effectively return Marines to their roots as a sea-going force. Currently the ship is in the final stages of construction in Pascagoula, Miss. The ship’s mission will be to embark, transport, control, insert, sustain and extract elements of Marine air-ground task forces, and support forces by helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft. The first America-class ship is designed to support a variety of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft consisting of the MV-22B Osprey, F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, AV-8B Harrier II, CH-53D/E Sea Stallion helicopters, CH-46D/E Sea Knight helicopters, AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters and U.S. Navy MH-60S/R helicopters.
This dynamic multi-mission assortment of aircraft will bring new mission capabilities to the fleet. The realignment and expansion of the aviation maintenance facilities provides more room for aircraft parts and increased aviation fuel capacity. In addition, the ship's enlarged hangar bay offers more room for aircraft, making the ship perfect for aviation-centric missions.
"The America was designed for 19 additional [aviation maintenance] spaces," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jesse Ramirez assigned to PCU America. "I don't believe the impact of the ship's design will really be felt until the full-blown aviation combat element comes aboard and those maintainers look back and say, 'It was so much easier to keep [more] aircraft up and functional vice other [amphibious ships] with the limited amount of maintenance spaces.’”
Ramirez continued to stress that with the addition of these spaces on PCU America, the expectation will be to keep more aircraft serviceable, as well as implement faster turn-around times when performing maintenance.
For Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Duhe, PCU America’s combat cargo officer, he sees PCU America as an opportunity for the Marine Corps to concentrate more on a wide-spectrum of amphibious operations.
"It is important to the Marine Corps, as we downsize our force, that we focus on amphibious [capability],” said Duhe. “We need to ‘right-size’ our force and our equipment, so that we can tune into our role within the nation's defense. It is influencing potential crisis from the sea, as an air-ground Navy-Marine team, that sets the Marines apart from other services. It is our primary identity."
Duhe also emphasized how this ship will be more capable in handling MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter missions when compared to any other current ship in the fleet.
“The Marine Corps operates the Osprey now. We are bringing in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter soon. For all the hard work that has gone into building this vessel, the ship's capabilities and design are specifically pointed at those two warfighting assets,” said Duhe.
America has wasted no time embarking and enabling Marines to familiarize themselves with what will soon be the Navy's newest amphibious asset. On Feb. 5 and 6 ship tours were held for Marine Forces Reserve (MARFORRES), located in New Orleans, La.
"Conducting tours now is important, especially for junior Marines because we are on the tail end of a ground-fighting war in [Central Asia], and for so many Marines, this is all they have known during their careers," said Duhe. "The Commandant's guidance is for everyone to revisit operations from the sea, of an expeditionary nature, so I'm happy to be a part of this."
The tours consisted of Marines from diverse backgrounds and ranks, from colonel to lance corporal.
“These tours are important for all Marines," said Marine food service Staff Sgt. Jarvis Dixion assigned to MARFORRES. "For the junior Marines, I think it's important for them to actually see the ship and to get a feel for its capabilities and day-to-day life. For senior personnel, it's an opportunity to plan for future operations and prepare their [subordinates].”
Col. Ricky S. Brown, assistant chief of staff MARFORRES, discussed his appreciation for PCU America’s innovative steps toward Navy and Marine Corps integration.
"As we build all these new platforms for the next generation, it's going to be these young Marines that need to understand the flexibility, capability and how to employ [a variety of amphibious mission-sets]," said Brown. “Visiting a ship, like PCU America, allows Marines to experience how the Navy and Marine Corps effectively works together for one cohesive mission.”