USS Wasp leaves Naval Station Norfolk for homeport shift to Japan

170729-N-BD308-175 ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 29, 2017) Sailors re-qualify for the M-9 service pistol aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is currently underway acquiring certifications in preparation for their upcoming homeport shift to Sasebo, Japan where they are slated to relieve the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Levingston Lewis/Released)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The USS Wasp (LHD 1) left Naval Station Norfolk on Wednesday for Sasebo, Japan, where the amphibious assault ship will be the forward-deployed flagship of the amphibious force of the U.S. 7th Fleet.

This homeport shift will introduce an F-35B Joint Strike Fighter-capable amphibious assault ship to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, pairing it with the F-35Bs of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121).

“This move ensures that our most technologically advanced air warfare platforms are forward deployed,” said Wasp commanding officer Capt. Andrew Smith. “Our capabilities, paired with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, increases our Navy’s precision strike capabilities within the 7th Fleet region. Wasp will help America’s commitment to the maritime security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”

The Wasp returned to Norfolk late last year after a six-month deployment. During that time, the crew finished a certification validation, which ensures the ship’s readiness to join the 7th Fleet.

In a news release, the Navy said the ship “represents the naval centerpiece of the Up-Gunned Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) concept, which increases the capability of the traditional three-ship amphibious ready group to defend itself and project power.”

As Wasp takes over for USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) for a regularly-scheduled deployment next year, the crew will serve as the flagship for the Wasp ESG, which will include USS Green Bay (LPD 20) and one of two forward-deployed amphibious dock landing ships. The ESG also embarks Naval Beach Unit 7, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 and ground, air and logistics elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The Up-Gunned ESG-MEU team is the premiere crisis response force in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. On top of maintaining security in the region, the Wasp ESG will respond at a moment’s notice to humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

The 31st MEU and forward-deployed amphibious ships like Wasp combine to form U.S. Pacific Command’s premier crisis response force. Together, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps team has the capability to conduct stability operations or deliver disaster relief at a moment’s notice.