The Navy and the Marines loaded up an amphibious assault ship with a heavy configuration of F-35s, and experts believe it’s an experiment for a new type of light carrier known as a “Lightning Carrier.”
Lightning carriers armed with F-35s could theoretically take over operations in low-end conflicts, freeing up the “supercarriers” to focus on higher-end threats such as Russia and China.
These light carriers could also boost the overall firepower of the Navy carrier force.
“I think the Marine Corps may be realizing that this is the best use of their large amphibious assault ships,” an expert said.
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The US Navy sent the USS Wasp into the South China Sea earlier this month loaded with an unusually heavy configuration of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
“We are seeing a fleet experiment going on right now,” Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and naval-affairs expert, told Business Insider, explaining that the Navy and the Marines are experimenting with the “Lightning Carrier” concept.
Light carriers armed with these short landing and take-off F-35s could theoretically take over operations in low-end conflicts, potentially freeing up the “supercarriers” to focus on higher-end threats such as Russia and China, or significantly boost the firepower of the US Navy carrier force, experts told Business Insider.
The USS Wasp with a heavy F-35 configuration, with 10 Joint Strike Fighters on its flight deck. US Navy/USS Wasp/Facebook
The USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, is participating in the ongoing Balikatan exercises with the Philippines. It deployed with at least 10 F-35s, more than the ship would normally carry.
Read more: A US Navy warship was seen in the South China Sea carrying an unusually large number of F-35s
“With each new exercise, we learn more about [the F-35Bs] capabilities as the newest fighter jet in our inventory, and how to best utilize them and integrate them with other platforms,” a Marine Corps spokesperson told Business Insider.
The Wasp was recently spotted running flight operations near Scarborough Shoal, a contested South China Sea territory.