Quiet Developments in 5th Fleet

It hasn’t gotten a lot of press, but CENTCOM has seen some interesting visitors and additions in recent days.

First up, the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11), commissioned on 17 November 2018, arrived at Manama, Bahrain on 25 June, marking the completion of a “historic” 10,000-mile journey from her homeport in Mayport, Florida, becoming the first LCS of either class to operate in the Middle East.

Littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11), arrives at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, on June 25. Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to help ensure maritime security and stability in the Middle East region. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Terry Vongsouthi)

Of course, the Navy wants to decommission all nine Freedom-class ships currently in service, Sioux City included, but at least it shows they can reach overseas if needed. Maybe.

The day after Sioux City arrived, she operated with unmanned surface vessels and crewed ships in the Arabian Gulf, on June 26. The vessels included a 23-foot Saildrone Explorer, a 38-foot MARTAC Devil Ray T-38, the Island-class patrol cutter USCGC Baranof (WPB 1318), the new Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142), and the aging (27 years young on a hull built for 15) Cyclone-class 170-foot patrol craft USS Thunderbolt (PC 12).

Of note, the Coast Guard is rapidly replacing the Islands with the Sentinels, as we have covered several times before, while the Navy is ridding itself of the Cyclones, leaving the 5th Fleet to be staffed largely just with six forward deployed Sentinels of Coast Guard PATFORSWA, and visiting Navy units.

Speaking of which, two of the Coast Guard’s newest Sentinels: USCGC Clarence Sutphin (WPC 1147) and USCGC John Scheuerman (WPC 1146), departed CONUS last week en route to their new homeport in Bahrain alongside their trans-Atlantic escort, the 270-foot medium endurance cutter USCGC Mohawk (WMEC-913).

Of course, the Navy could always just forward deploy half of the Freedom-class LCSs there to take up the slack caused by the departure of the Cyclones and leave the other half stateside as training platforms, allowing crews to fly out and rotate.

Handoff? USS Sioux City Blue Crew (LCS 11) and Cyclone-class USS Thunderbolt PC-12 transit the Strait of Hormuz, June 24. For years the Navy wanted to get rid of the Cyclones and even loaned a couple to the Coast Guard. Then, after 2001, they saw the utility in forward deploying most of them to Bahrain as a standing FU force to the Iranian IRGCN.

The hulls could do good work in minesweeping and as drone mother ships, a job in which their iffy combining gear wouldn’t be a deal-breaker as they would serve largely as depot/station ships. I mean, they are littoral combat ships, right?

Maybe Sioux City could be a harbinger of a Plan B for her class.

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