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The amphibious assault ship Wasp's combat system is obsolete, the Navy says, and has been that way for years, leading to the ship's withdrawal in 2009 from the regular deployment schedule.
The ship that hasn't made a major overseas deployment since 2004 is scheduled to receive a major upgrade intended to put it back in the mix by 2014.
The acknowledgement of a deficiency with the ship is at odds with previous official statements. Navy officials earlier this month said Wasp had not conducted a major deployment over the past eight years because the ship had been designated a test platform for the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
At issue is the Advanced Combat Direction System, an automated command-and-control system that in the mid-1980s was envisioned as a centralized means for aircraft carriers and "big deck" assault ships to collect and sort combat information. In 1996, Wasp was one of the first ships to get the Block 1 upgrade.
But by 1998, the ACDS Block 1 version of the system — installed on the Wasp and other ships — failed its operational evaluation and, according to U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., further acquisition efforts were frozen. Soon it became obsolete due to interoperability limitations and no training and system support.
Further funding for ACDS Block 1 was withdrawn in 2003. Block 0 remained in use aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise and other assault ships, but most ships with the Block 1 system were upgraded to the Ship Self Defense Support System (SSDS). The Wasp, however, retained its ACDS Block 1.
With its combat system considered unreliable, the 41,000-ton ship made its last major operational deployment with embarked Marines in 2004. The ship's ACDS failed its platform certification decision in 2009, and with no plan to address the combat system issues, Fleet Forces Command said, the commander of Norfolk-based 2nd Fleet removed Wasp from the deployment rotation.
With the pending need in 2009 for a dedicated test ship for the F-35B short-takeoff, vertical-landing aircraft, the non-deploying Wasp was a logical choice.
"The fleet and type commanders coordinated a way forward for Wasp that addressed limitations of her combat systems suite while keeping her following an operational employment strategy leveraging her current capabilities," said Capt. Chris Sims, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command.
"By delaying necessary upgrades to USS Wasp's combat systems," Sims wrote in an email on Friday, "the Navy was able to meet Marine Corps requirements for a dedicated, at-sea test platform for the JSF while continuing to meet combatant commander requirements under the amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit deployment rotation."
After some modifications, Wasp conducted two weeks of flight tests with the F-35B last October, but no further flight tests are scheduled until 2013. An overhaul to begin receiving more extensive shipboard modifications to fully support the aircraft is scheduled to begin this fall, with more flight tests next summer.
But later in 2013, the ship will be upgraded with the Ship Self Defense System Block II, a significant improvement over ACDS that will effectively coordinate the ship's self-defense. SSDS is installed on all aircraft carriers and amphibs, and ties together a ship's Rolling Airframe Missiles, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles and Cooperative Engagement Capability system.
Sims wasn't able to provide a cost estimate for the alterations, but one source said it would cost $170 million just to upgrade Wasp's combat system.
In 2014, with the SSDS installation complete, Wasp will return to the regular amphibious ready group rotation schedule, Sims said.