Keel laid on assault warship USS Bougainville

March 15 (UPI) — The keel of the America-class amphibious warship USS Bougainville was authenticated during a ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss.

Thursday’s keel laying is considered a major milestone in the ship’s construction, which began on Oct. 6, 2018.

The ship’s sponsor Ellyn Dunford, the wife of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Francis Dunford Jr., declared the keel “truly and fairly laid” after her initials were welded onto a plate.

“The production team has made steady progress and we look forward to bringing the next generation of amphibious capabilities to the Navy and Marine Corps warfighters,” Tom Rivers, amphibious warfare program manager of Program Executive Office ships, said in a Navy news release.

The first ship in the class, the USS America, was deployed in 2017. The Tripoli is currently under construction.

The ships are 855 feet long with a crew of 1,204, including 102 officers, according to the Navy.

The Bougainville will include rapid surface assault capability, as well as accommodate the Marine Corps’ Air Combat Element, including five F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, 12 MV-22 Ospreys and a variety of helicopters, according to the shipbuilder.

The well deck can house and launch two landing craft air cushion hovercraft or one landing craft utility.

LHA 8 will be the second Navy vessel to bear the name Bougainville. The Bougainville Campaign took place from 1943 to 1944 during World War I when allied forces secured a strategic airfield from Japan in the northern Solomon Islands. This helped the allies break the Japanese stronghold in the South Pacific.

Huntington Ingalls Industries, the sole builder of large-deck amphibious ships for the U.S. Navy, delivered its first amphibious assault ship, the Iwo Jima-class USS Tripoli, in 1966.

Since then, Ingalls has built five Tarawa-class ships and eight Wasp-class ships.

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