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Bravo Zulu, HITRON

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, or HITRON, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and shows no signs of slowing down. In 1999, six pilots and four newly USMC-trained aviation gunners were brought together to prove the concept of armed helicopters — a mission the USCG had steered away from in the past.

Armed with stun grenades as well as M16A2 rifles and an FN M240 general-purpose machine gun for warning shots, they carried a Robar RC50 long-range heavy rifle for disabling fire. During this early phase, the group encountered five go-fasts and stopped all five with disabling fire. They arrested 17 smugglers — none of whom were injured thanks to the accurate fire of the Coasties.

After this test, the Coast Guard gave the go-ahead to move forward with a full-scale squadron sized unit and HITRON was born.

Starting with a leased helicopter (an MD Explorer dubbed the MH 90 Enforcer), they eventually moved to field eight sweet Augusta AW109s (also leases) designated as MH-68A Stingrays from 2000 to 2008.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (June 1, 2003)–The Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) patrols the skies over the Los Angeles Harbor. The MH-68A helicopter is specially equipped with M-16 rifles, an M240 machine gun, and the RC50 laser-sighted 50-caliber precision rifle. HITRON’s primary missions are drug interdiction and Home Land Security. USCG photo by PA3 Dave Hardesty

Today, more than 200 USCG personnel are currently assigned to the squadron, based at Cecil Field’s Hangar 13 in Jacksonville, Florida. From there, helicopters and crews are deployed to wherever they are needed most, now using the standard Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin.

The Chase, by James Consor, USCG art program

The precision heavy hitter of the aviation gunner today is the Barrett M107A1 .50-caliber heavy rifle. Braced against the doorframe and the strap of the rescue hoist, the 28-pound Barrett can be balanced in a way that’s familiar to any rifleman using a standard sling just on a much larger scale, providing a surprisingly stable platform from which to shoot.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Ð Petty Officer 2nd Class (AMT2) Lee Fenton of Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron takes aim with a decommissioned .50 caliber precision rifle during training in the St. Johns River, Fla., March 26, 2008. Lee is one of several gunners getting qualified on the new MH-65C dolphin helicopter. HITRON started receiving the new helicopter in September 2007. Some additional features on the new helicopter include a forward-looking infrared device and heads-up-display to enhance night operations and an electro-optical sensor system to enhance detection capabilities. Coast Guard photograph by PA2 Bobby Nash.

The gunners train with M33 ball ammo to hit a 16×16-inch target — roughly the engine housing of an outboard motor.

The engine housings of a go-fast boat sports bullet holes, June 25, 2019, in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. A Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron precision marksman used disabling-gunfire to stop the boat during a Coast Guard interdiction. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

HITRON is the only unit of its kind in the U.S. military and officials say they have stopped more than $21 billion worth of illegal drugs in the last 20 years.

Splash one drone in the SOH

Back in my slimmer days, I used to crawl around at Ingalls in Pascagoula as part of the long-running effort to put flesh against steel to produce warships. One of the hulls that I worked on during that period was USS Boxer, to include getting underway on her during builder’s trials. With that being said, LHD-4 carved herself an interesting footnote in the annals of modern asymmetric warfare last week.

The Pentagon reported Friday that she splashed an unidentified Iranian drone (labeled by multiple analysts as a Mohajer-4B Sadegh) in the Strait of Hormuz that came inside the ship’s defense bubble while a WSJ writer onboard reported an Iranian helicopter and small craft came almost as close. 

The ship, with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, has had Marines positioned topside with their light vehicles arrayed on her flight deck so they could bear crew-served weapons on low-key targets if needed. It was apparently one of the lightest of these, a Polaris MRZR 4×4, that was used to pop the drone.

A what?

The little brown thing on Boxer’s deck in the below image.

190718-M-EC058-1558 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (July 18, 2019) A UH-1Y Venom helicopter assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) during a strait transit. The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)

Outfitted with a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) system, the go-cart-sized vehicle killed the Iranian UAV via aggressive freq interference.

An LMADIS operated by the 22nd MEU on the flight deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) in May. The system was developed specifically to combat the weaponized commercial drone development. It is equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, optics to track and monitor targets at extensive ranges, and capabilities to physically disable a UAS on approach.

1st Lt. Taylor Barefoot, a low altitude air defense officer with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, programs a counter-unmanned aircraft system on a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) during a pre-deployment training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Nov. 13, 2018. The LMADIS is a maneuverable, ground-based system, mounted to a Polaris MRZR that can detect, identify and defeat drones with an electronic attack. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

Of course, the Iranians, in their best Baghdad Bob Act, said they recovered their drone safe and sound and they have the video to prove it. 

The same day, CENTCOM announced the start of Operation Sentinel:

U.S. Central Command is developing a multinational maritime effort, Operation Sentinel, to increase surveillance of and security in key waterways in the Middle East to ensure freedom of navigation in light of recent events in the Arabian Gulf region.

The goal of Operation Sentinel is to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and de-escalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait (BAM) and the Gulf of Oman.

This maritime security framework will enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance.

Meanwhile, off Venezuela

Maduro can’t afford much, but he can still flex some Flankers from time to time apparently.

U.S. Southern Command released a series of short (20 sec) videos of a Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker as it “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II reportedly at an unsafe distance in international airspace over the Caribbean Sea July 19, jeopardizing the crew and aircraft.

“The EP-3 aircraft, flying a mission in approved international airspace, was approached in an unprofessional manner by the SU-30 that took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas.”

And the beat goes on…

A lot worse than a rock in your shoe

Vietnam, Marines of Company H, 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment, walk through a punji-staked gully; 28 January 1966. Note the M14 battle rifle, Marlboro (they were issued in packs of 5 in C-rats) and bare M1 helmet.

General Photograph File of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1927 – 1981; Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, Record Group 127; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. Photograph 127-N-A186578

Punji sticks are ancient anti-personnel devices, with the British reportedly encountering them in Burma as far back as the 19th Century and, as noted in our post on the frogmen of Balikpapan, the Japanese used them extensively in WWII. Today they are banned from use in warfare under Protocol II of the UN’s 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. 

Of course, those who are most likely to use them never had much use for what Geneva had to say, anyway.

Just hailing a ride on a Narco Sub

In the bonkers short video below, you see a U.S. Coast Guard Deployable Specialized Forces TACLET guy deployed on the U.S. Coast Guard Legends-class National Security Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) going for a ride on a 31-foot Long Range Interceptor “somewhere in the Eastern Pacific.”

Said Coastie makes a perfect landing on what JIATF-South calls “a self-propelled semi-submersible suspected drug smuggling vessel (SPSS)” but best just known as a Narco-Sub. The below happened June 18, 2019.

This is the SPSS when surfaced, to give a scale at just how much of the hull was below the sea:

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) crew members inspect a self-propelled semi-submersible June 19, 2019, in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) crew members inspect a self-propelled semi-submersible June 19, 2019, in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Just two weeks after the above video was shot, crewmembers of the USCGC Mohawk (WMEC 913) and Tactical Law Enforcement Team South interdicted a second SPSS while conducting counter-trafficking operations in the Eastern Pacific.

(Coast Guard Photos)

The Coast Guard hasn’t been this busy fighting submarines since the Germans!

Limpet mine update: ‘With high confidence’

U.S. Navy CDR Sean Kido, head of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One One (EODMU 11) explains the attack on the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t) and the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair, allegedly by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, in the Gulf of Oman on June 13th, 2019:

Mr. Limpet makes his daytime appearance in the Gulf of Oman

Not this guy who everybody loved:

This guy:

(Or approximate)

The attack in International waters hit the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t), owned by Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) and carrying a load of methanol; along with the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair (62,849t) with a load of crude, early on June 13. Both were carrying what Japan’s Trade Ministry says were “Japan-related” cargo.

The attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.

Kokuka Courageous Front Altair

“The timing was considered sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission.”

5th Fleet’s release on the matter through CENTCOM:

TAMPA (NNS) — U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time from the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and a second one at 7a.m. local time from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

Both vessels were in international waters in the Gulf of Oman approximately 10 nautical miles apart at the time of the distress calls. USS Bainbridge was approximately 40 nautical miles away from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack and immediately began closing the distance.

At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair.

At 9:12 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observes the FAC/FIAC pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water.

At 9:26 a.m. local time the Iranians requested that the motor vessel Hyundai Dubai, which had rescued the sailors from the M/T Altair, to turn the crew over to the Iranian FIACs. The motor vessel Hyundai Dubai complied with the request and transferred the crew of the M/T Altair to the Iranian FIACs.

At 11:05 a.m. local time USS Bainbridge approaches the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of twenty-one sailors from the M/T Kokuka Courageous who had abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.

190613-N-N0101-115 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

190613-N-N0101-116 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

While the Hendijan patrol boat appeared to attempt to get to the tug Coastal Ace before USS Bainbridge, the mariners were rescued by USS Bainbridge at the request of the master of the M/T Kokuka Courageous. The rescued sailors are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.

190613-N-SS350-0135 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) render aid to the crew of the M/V Kokuka Courageous. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Waite/Released)

At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today’s attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.

The U.S. and the international community, stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation.

The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.

The attack comes a month to the day after what is described as “Coordinated teams of divers using limpet mines incapacitated the vessels in a series of timed detonations” to damage four tankers from the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Norway off the Emirati coast.

The underwater damage to the Saudi Arabian tanker Al Marzoqah May 12

Saudi Arabian tanker Amjad was one of those attacked in the Port of Fujairah May 12

And the beat goes on…

Google Operation Praying Mantis to see how this is going to end up.

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