Vessels of the "Landing Helicopter Dock" (LHD) amphibious assault ship program of the US Navy are named after former USN warships as opposed to the traditional naming convention honoring historical USN battles. In naming "LHD-1" the "Wasp", the US Navy honored no fewer than nine previous USN warships dating back to the first such named vessel fighting in the American Revolution (USS Wasp of 1775). Amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) became the lead ship of the Landing Helicopter Deck (LHD) class totaling eight similar vessels, each costing approximately $822 million to procure. The USS Wasp measures just 24 feet shorter than the USS Wasp (CV-18) Essex-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943 though the LHD-1 is 5,000 tons heavier and has mission capabilities not imagined during World War 2. Her keel was laid down by Ingalls Shipbuilding on May 30th, 1985.
The primary of the USS Wasp LHD-1 mission dedicated to housing and assisting marine force elements using Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) watercraft. Additionally, her capabilities require her to land material for "over-the-beach" assaults, intended to survive the threats posed by hostile shorelines. Air support for beachhead landings are also provided "in-house", this by way of onboard McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (AV-8B) Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing (V/STOL) aircraft which supply the close air support (CAS) air arm required of such operations. The vessel also carries a full complement of medical staff capable of providing intensive frontline medical care for up to 600 military casualties or regular patients. As such, the Wasp can be called upon to undertake humanitarian roles whenever and wherever needed.
The USS Wasp currently (2012) makes her homeport out of Norfolk, Virginia which gives her instant access to the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean. She measures a running length of 843 feet (257 meters) with a beam of 105 feet (32 meters) while having a draft of 27 feet (8.23 meters). Wasp is built from a relatively new advanced hull design that maximizes the vessels internal space to promote spacious volume while still remaining dimensionally compact. What this has done is eliminate the need for additional troop and hospital ships accompanying the main fleet all the while allowing for rather comfortable living spaces concerning the ships basic crew, her air wing detachment and marines force. During World War 1, World War 2 and the Korea War, American assault missions required various (and numerous) types of surface ships to include battleships, aircraft carriers, troop ships and landing craft. Support ships needed to be close to volatile and dangerous shorelines in order to land their assault troops and were thusly put within range of enemy artillery and air attack. The LHD ships now allows the US Navy and Marine Corps the ability to enact over-the-horizon assaults that reduce the chance of attack on the Navy's greatest assets - its ships and crews. This concept further allows the Wasp the chance of an uncontested beach landing.
The Wasp class required, and was fitted with, sophisticated communications systems and advanced command-and-control for complex missions management concerning simultaneous air and sea deployments. She was also given capable self-defense weaponry as well as state-of-the-art electronics which, when combined, serve to support the US Navy and Marine helicopters, landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles needed to land Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) elements. The marine detachment alone can number up to 2,200 combat-ready, gear-laden marines. The US Navy also required their new LHD vessels to field improvements found lacking in the preceding Tarawa-class LHA-type ships. While the two classes utilized the same basic hull design and propulsion system, the Wasp has given a larger well deck that allowed her to carry 3 x LCACs versus 1 x LCAC in the preceding LHA series. The flight deck space and elevators were enlarged to allow the carrying of more helicopters per lift than the LHA class before it. Additional improvements over the LHA class included an LSD/LPD-type large powered stern loading gate and a longer, narrower docking well which could alternatively hold up to 12 x LCM 6, 6 x LCM 8 or 2 x LCUs units. The USS Wasp can transport up to 2,860 square meters (30,800 sq ft) of cargo and another 1,858 square meters (20,000 sq ft) is allocated for MEU vehicles. Based on mission requirements, the Wasp has vehicle space to accommodate up to 5 x USMC M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, 25 x AAVs, 8 x M198 towed howitzers, 68 x supply trucks plus twelve additional support-type vehicles. An internal monorail system is used to move cargo from the various holds to the well deck as needed.
Radar for the USS Wasp was added at the bulbous forefoot of the bow as were larger bilge keels. 5"/54 caliber guns were removed allowing the flight deck to be squared-off forward. This additional space allowed the spotting of additional CH-53E helicopters simultaneously while increasing the number of assault troops lifted per assault wave. This improvement naturally required a stronger flight deck to support the additional weight so HY100 steel was used in the construction. To reduce air accidents, a lower, narrower, and longer island superstructure was constructed. This also reduced her radar signature and side profiles. USS Wasp also manages the largest conventional steam propulsion plants currently in USN service. The two powerplants develop 70,000 shaft horsepower to two shafts allowing the ship to reach speeds greater than 20 knots in ideal conditions. Electrical generators provide power for the various shipboard systems. Two pumping stations are needed to move the stored aircraft and vehicle fuel while fresh water for the 3,000 plus personnel is brought about via distilling plants providing 200,000 gallons of fresh water per day. The well deck carries four LCPLs and two utility boats. When launching or recovering the aft gate is down, thusly allowing more than 15,000 tons of seawater to enter the well deck needed for the landing craft's flotation. Wasp is designed to take on this additional tonnage of sea water. The LHD does not feature the requisite "ski-jump" ramp found on similar British vessels used when launching the AV-8B Harrier in a conventional manner. The hangar deck can accommodate a dozen CH-46 Sea Knight tandem-rotor transport helicopters.
The LHD-1 class ships are built as five giant, pre-constructed modules each weighing thousands of tons and ultimately fitted together at the shipyard, forming the ship's hull. The subassemblies are constructed at the same time by separate contractors and, overall, construction of the ship requires the services of hundreds of individual contractors providing the hardware, piping, ventilation ducting as well as the main propulsion equipment, generators, electrical wiring and panels. This parallel construction effort allows the vessel to be roughly 74% complete at launch. When the five modules and subsets are completed and joined, the vessel is rolled from her construction stands to a floating dry-dock area. The dry-dock is purposefully positioned over a "water pit" ultimately allowing the ship to float free under her own displacement.
In February 1993, USS Wasp was deployed to the region off Somalia to participate in the United Nations intervention effort "Operation Restore Hope". Wasp supported military efforts taking place in and around the capital city of Mogadishu. Once released, Wasp was ordered to assist off the coast of Kuwait. From there, she was called back to her home part but not before making port calls in Toulon, France and Rota, Spain.
By February of 1995, the first four LHD-class ships had been delivered to the US Navy. These ships were outfitted with the air search radars SPS-48E and SPS-49 and, for target acquisition, the MK 23 series system and SLQ-32 electronic warfare system. The NATO "Sea Sparrow" surface-launched missile (naval equivalent of the original Sparrow air-to-air missile) and Phalanx Block 1 Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) were used for self-defense along with the MK 36 decoy launching system. In 1996-97, the USS Wasp was the first of her class to receive the Ship Self-Defense System Block improvement to counter the growing threat and capabilities of incoming anti-ship missiles. One of the original Phalanx mounts was removed and Mk 31 RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) launchers were mounted at the forward end of the island superstructure and on the starboard quarter. In 1998, the ACDS and AN/SWY-3 control configuration were added to the class. This integrated capability/configuration included the MK 23 Target Acquisition System and multiple NATO "Sea Sparrow" and RAM missile systems. Wasp received the RAM Block 1 in late fiscal year 2002 - this improvement providing the ship class with high capability response against the short- and medium-range threat.
The USS Wasp was formally put to see on August 4th, 1987 and officially commissioned for service on July 29th, 1989 and has been in active service since. She was given the fighting motto of "Honor, Tradition, Ecellence" with a yellow and blue patch signifying this creed. The patch also includes the silhouette of a wasp in reference to the ship's official title.
In February 2004, the USS Wasp was reassigned to waters off of Afghanistan, taking along the Marines of BLT 1/6 and HMM-266 Rein. After the marines were offloaded, she returned to the United States to pick up more Marines from HMH-461, taking them to Djibouti. After leaving Djibouti in August, Wasp returned to Kuwait to pick up the Marines of HMM-266 Rein returning to Norfolk, Virginia in September of 2004. In July of 2006, then-Vice President Dick Cheney arrived on the USS Wasp to give a speech honoring the efforts of the USS Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Wasp was the principal attraction at Fleet Week 2007 in New York City. In September of 2007, the USS Wasp was moved to Nicaragua in a humanitarian mission for the victims of Hurricane Felix.
The USS Wasp became the first ship to deploy the tilt-rotor Boeing V-22 "Osprey" transport helicopter in October 2007. These were carried to Iraqi waters in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On October 2009, the USS Wasp deployed from its base at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on a three-month sea voyage down the Atlantic to Caribbean waters as part of "Partnership of the Americas". Onboard USS Wasp, the 1,100 crew and 365 Marines were involved in exercises in the US 4th Fleet area of responsibility. Before her return to Norfolk in December 2009, she dropped off Marines at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba for a 90-day training program. On June 29th, 2010, USS Wasp was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Navy.
Prior to October 2011, Wasp was upgraded to receive the new Lockheed F-35B "Lightning II" for testing. The F-35B is the product of the Joint Strike Fighter program and a proposed Marine Corp variant featuring Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) qualities akin to the aging AV-8B Harrier II series. The F-35B is scheduled to replace the Marine Corps McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier and Grumman EA-6B Prowler series in their various ship-borne roles. The new aircraft will provide Wasp with a multi-role, fifth-generation fighter intended to reduce maintenance costs and ensure the Marine Corps tactical aircraft dominance required to protect the national interest. As of this writing (2011), the F-35B has surpassed 250 vertical landings including 72 vertical landings and short takeoffs from the deck of the USS Wasp alone. The next sea trial, DT-2, is scheduled for 2013 after Wasp receives additional modifications for F-35B operations.
The Navy received new orders for her forces in January 2012 concerning upcoming budget cuts reducing the number of ships in active inventory. This has forced a refocus of naval assets from the Atlantic to the Pacific theater in response. The major concern of the moment is China's decision to increase her naval presence in the South China Sea. China is locked in long-running territorial disputes with several neighboring nations including US-allied Japan, Philippines and Vietnam - all whom have repeatedly accused China of overt aggression in the region. They are among the several nations claiming sovereignty over islands in the sea in the hope that there will be oil and gas deposits there. US President Barack Obama has since ordered a boost to the US presence in the region and will base a full Marine task force in northern Australia as a result. USS Wasp may soon be reassigned to a new home port on the pacific coast of the US in response to the changing scenario.
Currently, the USS Wasp is equipped with 2 x Sea Sparrow missile launchers, 2 x RAM launchers, 2 x Phalanx CIWS, 3 x 25mm Mk 38 series guns and several 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Her currently supported aircraft wing includes up to 12 x CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopters, 4 x CH-53E Super Stallion transport helicopters, 6 x AV08B Harrier II strike aircraft, 3 x UH-1N Huey transport helicopters, 4 x AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and several MV-22 Osprey transport tilt-rotor aircraft.