American warship USS Tripoli docks in Singapore on maiden deployment

F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jets on the deck of the US Navy warship USS Tripoli at Changi Naval Base. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
The USS Tripoli, which arrived in Singapore on Wednesday, is the US Navy's newest America-class amphibious assault ship. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - American warship USS Tripoli has docked in Singapore as part of its months-long maiden deployment.

The vessel, which arrived in Singapore on Wednesday, was commissioned in July 2020 and is the United States Navy's newest America-class amphibious assault ship.

USS Tripoli departed its home port in San Diego, California, on May 2 and has also docked in Japan, where she picked up about 1,200 US marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

In total, about 2,400 US military personnel - including 1,200 of the vessel's crew members - were on board when the vessel docked in Singapore.

The USS Tripoli is the second large US vessel to visit Singapore since the Covid-19 pandemic started, following the visit of USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and one of the largest vessels in the US Navy, in July.

Describing the work of the USS Tripoli's crew and the marines, a spokesman for the ship said during a media tour of the vessel on Thursday: "We're a crisis-response force.

"We are ready and trained to respond to crisis, whether it be humanitarian aid... or other kinds of (tasks) that the commanders in the United States Navy and the armed forces give to us."

Citing operational security, he declined to say where else USS Tripoli will go as part of its current deployment, and when it will return to San Diego.

"We're in Singapore for a few days, and then we are moving forward to our next task,"  the spokesman told reporters. He added that crew members were taking a break here.

Singapore regularly hosts ships from foreign navies for replenishment.

The US Navy has previously said that USS Tripoli is operating in the US 7th Fleet area of operations - which generally covers Asia-Pacific, including the South China Sea - to "enhance inter-operability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and maintain stability in the Indo-Pacific region".

The South China Sea is one of the world's most hotly contested areas as it is believed to be potentially rich in oil and other natural resources, and is also part of a major international trading route. China and several South-east Asian nations have separately claimed maritime territory within the sea.

On board the 257m-long vessel on Thursday were 23 aircraft - 10 MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, four CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters, three MH-60S Seahawk search-and-rescue helicopters, and six F-35B Lightning II fighter jets.

A row of Marine MV-22B Ospreys are seen on the flight deck of the USS Tripoli at Changi Naval Base on Sept 1, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Unlike most other amphibious assault vessels which are designed to project ground forces, USS Tripoli was designed primarily to project air assets.

In March and April, it tested a "lightning carrier" concept for the first time, where up to 20 F-35Bs were housed on board, with the vessel acting as a small aircraft carrier from which the fighter jets could take off and land.

Analysts have said that this capability adds to the power and flexibility of US forces.

On sailing in the South China Sea, the spokesman said that the vessel operates in accordance with international law and in international waters where it is authorised to.

"Those operations are a lot of flight operations. We're shooting jets and helicopters off the ship, and they are flying to maintain currency," he said.

Asked about encounters with Chinese aircraft while sailing in the South China Sea, an F-35B pilot on board the vessel said: "We've seen a few of them. They have generally been safe and professional."

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