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US Navy’s Lightning Carriers: F-35B Stealth Jets on Amphibious Assault Ships for Rapid Response in Taiwan Conflict

The US Navy could use amphibious assault ships equipped with short-take-off-and-landing F-35B stealth jets dubbed ‘lightning carriers’ to quickly reach trouble spots in a possible conflict with China over Taiwan.

The lightning carrier concept involves using converted amphibious assault ships (LHAs) carrying Lockheed Martin F-35B “Lightning II” stealth jets. It was tested last summer by the US Navy and US Marines Corps using the America-class warship USS Tripoli.


US Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, the commander of the US Navy 7th Fleet, in October said that the concept is part of efforts to increase the firepower of the fleet’s ships. Thomas made the remarks during an event hosted by think tanks the US Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

An amphibious assault ship which typically carries helicopters, armored vehicles and a battalion of marines can be configured into a “lightning carrier” with up to 20 F-35B jets stored onboard, Thomas said.

In comparison, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has two aircraft carriers equipped with J-15 fourth generation aircraft which need conventional runway to take off and land; this slows down reaction time during a battle.

“I will note that [an] LHA with 14 F-35Bs is much more capable than either of the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] current carriers, both from a sortie-creation perspective as well as just a sheer capability,” Thomas was quoted as saying.

China too has amphibious assaut ships such as the type 071 and 075 but lacks short or vertical take off and landing fighter jets. However, these could be deployed with a complement of UAVs, helicopters and armored vehicles in a possible Taiwan invasion.