In this file photo, the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) participates in the Parade of Ships during the 62nd annual Seattle Seafair Fleet Week in August 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Lockwood)

SAN DIEGO - The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) will depart its homeport of San Diego Feb. 14 for a deployment to the Western Pacific Ocean.

The crew of Bonhomme Richard will participate in various exercises within the 7th Fleet area of responsibility, and conduct a hull swap with USS Essex (LHD 2) as part of the Navy long range plan to maintain continuous, highly capable amphibious ready group forward presence in the Pacific Fleet.

The Navy announced Aug. 19, 2011, that USS Essex (LHD 2) will be relieved in the spring by Bonhomme Richard as the Navy's only permanently forward deployed amphibious assault ship in Sasebo, Japan. The crews of both ships will remain in their current geographic locations and simultaneously execute a hull swap and exchange commands.

Bonhomme Richard's commanding officer, Capt. Charles Litchfield, said the hull swap supports the Navy's overall readiness plan.

"We just finished bringing Bonhomme Richard through a year-long process of upgrades and scheduled maintenance, so the ship is prepared from a modernization and lifecycle perspective to support forward deployed operations for an extended period of time. We are looking forward to delivering her to Sasebo and turning over with Essex crew. Then we'll bring Essex back here to San Diego and take her through a similar maintenance availability," said Litchfield.

Essex, which has been forward deployed to Japan since 2000, will be reassigned to Expeditionary Strike Group Three within the U.S. Third Fleet and homeported in San Diego. Third Fleet leads naval forces in the Eastern Pacific from the west coast of North America to the International Date Line.