Norfolk, Va. - Forward-deployed to Japan for just under a year, the amphibious assault ship Wasp will depart Sasebo soon for its previous homeport here and will be replaced by the amphibious assault ship America, which will leave San Diego.

It’s part of a three-port swap orchestrated two years ago that also involves the Wasp-class amphib Bonhomme Richard, which also called Sasebo home between mid-2012 and May 8, 2018, when the warship completed its homeport shift to San Diego and began prepping for an extended maintenance and modernization spell as the nearby General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding yard.

The Pentagon hoped that the movements of the three vessels would be completed in 2018 but the Navy Personnel Command’s Decommissioning and Homeport Change webpage in early November marked May 25, 2019 as the effective date of the homeport shift for the amphibious warship America to Sasebo.

The warship America’s move to the Western Pacific telegraphs a powerful message to allies and potential enemies in Asia

Commissioned in late 2014 as the lead ship of her high-tech class, the America carries stealthy Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. It’s also jammed with sophisticated sensors, communication gear, weapon systems and computing power to help its crew control the seas below and the skies above it.

As the flagship of the America Amphibious Ready Group, it returned to California on Feb. 2 from its maiden overseas deployment to the Persian Gulf and Western Pacific alongside the landing ships Pearl Harbor and San Diego

Unlike the Wasp, which also was the lead warship in its class, the America was designed with no well deck that floods to launch landing craft ferrying Marines to shore. Instead, it relies on its aviation assets, with a large hangar deck, fuel tanks and up to 20 strike fighters, plus V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and helicopter gunships.

That makes the America more like a flattop than a traditional amphibious vessel. Displacing 45,000 tons, the America is larger than the Vikramaditya — a carrier that’s India’s largest warship ― and France’s nuclear flattop Charles de Gaulle, plus Italy’s Cavour, the flagship of Rome’s maritime forces.

Wasp departed Norfolk on Aug. 30, 2017 and headed to Japan after a Caribbean pit stop to lend humanitarian relief in the wake of Hurricane Irma, arriving Jan. 6.

In September, the Navy awarded a $218.7 million contract to General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding in San Diego to upgrade the Bonhomme Richard.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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