Category Archives: Drones-UAV-UAS

Zephyr 8 Comes Down After 64 Days in the Stratosphere

The idea that you could launch an unmanned aircraft and it could stay aloft for two months, unrefueled, as it roams between North and South America on a 30,000-mile sortie, is bananas.

But it just happened.

The Airbus Zephyr series is an ultra-lightweight (165 pounds) long-winged (82-foot wingspan, roughly the same as a PBY Catalina) that can still lift an OPAZ camera system capable of taking 18cm high-resolution images from 65,000 feet in the air and delivering them BLOS in real-time– covering a 20 km x 30 km swath at a time.

Now that’s persistent ISR.

HAPS Zephyr in preparation before take-off

Airbus feels the aircraft has serious uses for maritime security, convoy protection, land/coastal border protection, and SIGINT, and they aren’t wrong. 

One of the prototypes, Zephyr 8, just burned in after spending a record 64 days in the air. This smashed the aircraft’s 2018 test flight of 25 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes endurance, without refueling.

From APNT/Space CFT at Redstone Arsenal:

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space (APNT/Space) Cross-Functional Team (CFT) has concluded a 64-day stratospheric flight demonstration utilizing Airbus’s Zephyr 8 ultra-long endurance solar-powered unmanned air system (UAS).

Launched from Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) on June 15, the Zephyr 8 UAS ascended to over 60,000 feet into the stratosphere before executing its flight plan over the southern portion of the United States, into the Gulf of Mexico, and over South America. Once returning to airspace over YPG, the team conducted multiple assessments.

On August 18 around 2100 hours PDT, the prototype aircraft’s flight campaign ended when the Zephyr 8 UAS encountered events that led to its unexpected termination over YPG. These events are under investigation. No injuries or risks to personnel or other aircraft resulted from this incident. Further information will be released following the investigation.

“Our team is working hard to gather and analyze important data following the unexpected termination of this flight,” said Michael Monteleone, Director of the APNT/Space CFT. “Despite this event, the Army and its partners have gleaned invaluable data and increased knowledge on the endurance, efficiency, and station-keeping abilities of high-altitude UAS platforms. That knowledge will allow us to continue to advance requirements for reliable, modernized stratospheric capabilities to our Soldiers.”

This flight marked a number of firsts for Zephyr 8, including its departure from U.S. airspace, flight over water, flight in international airspace, data collection and direct downlink while outside of U.S. airspace, the longest continuous duration (7 days) utilizing satellite communications, and the demonstration of resilient satellite command and control from three different locations – Huntsville, AL; Yuma, AZ; and Farnborough, UK.

During this flight, Zephyr 8 more than doubled the previous UAS endurance record, just under 26 days, and flew in excess of 30,000 nautical miles – more than one lap around the Earth. The 1,500 flight hours beat all known unmanned aircraft endurance records, marking significant capability and informing future mission requirements.

This experimentation successfully demonstrated Zephyr’s energy storage capacity, flight endurance, station-keeping, and agile positioning abilities. Given the amount of data that was generated during the 64-day flight and the time required to analyze it, as well as the need to investigate the events that led to the termination, further flight demonstrations have been postponed until 2023.

This 64-day test flight was performed in conjunction with government and industry partners who support experimentation that continues to inform Army requirements.

One thing I wonder about is the type’s susceptibility to operating in a non-permissive environment. What is the radar signature of a “pseudo satellite” cruising around at low speed and extreme altitude and how easy would it be to shoot it down? 

Even older Warsaw Pact high-performance interceptors such as the MiG-25 Foxbat have an operational ceiling above 80,000 feet and today’s better fighters such as the Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E have a published operational ceiling of 59,000 feet but I’d bet could make it to 65K if they had to in a wartime scenario.

The RP-25 Smerch-A/Foxfire radar had an impressive )for the time) power rating of 600kw that reportedly could cook a rabbit alive at 2 meters. But could it pick up a Zephyr?

Vietnam-era SAMs such as the SA-2 can reach 60,000 feet but would be largely unguided at that height although that didn’t stop them from getting lucky if used in quantity– CIA pilot Gary Powers found that out in his U-2 over Russia in 1960 despite that aircraft’s high altitude (rumored to be about 68,000 feet when shot down by a volley of 17 SA-2s).

Could an S-400 SAM system, if cued by an AWACS, make a hit on Zephyr? We may find out…

Suitcased-Sized Marine Eyeball and Targeting Teams

Earlier this summer, members of Task Force 61 Naval Amphibious Forces Europe/2d Marine Division (TF-61/2), operating under U.S. Sixth Fleet, joined their Estonian counterparts to kick off exercise Siil 22, also known in English as Exercise Hedgehog 22. While not a large force of Marines involved, TF-61/2 took advantage of the deployment to test out the new Commandant’s concept for Stand-in Forces (SIF) to generate small, highly versatile units that integrate Marine Corps and Navy forces and have “multi-domain reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance (RXR)” capabilities.

When talking of Maritime Awareness in 2022, the above references little groups of Marines– a team small enough to be inserted in a UH-1Y Venom which can only lift 8-10 combat-loaded men– equipped with back-packable/UTV-mountable Small Form Factor surface search radars, SATCOM, small UAS, and enhanced observation telescopes/binos to provide actionable intelligence and targeting data to upper headquarters.

Check out the highlight reel:

Highly mobile SATCOM on a UTV:

U.S. Marines with 2nd Marine Division test a Small Form Factor Satellite Communication (SATCOM) on the move (SOTM) device, while it’s attached to a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, April 10, 2019. The CopaSAT STORM is a replacement for the current Networking on the move (NOTM) system, which will allow Marines better communication services while stationary or forward deployed. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Q. Hamilton)

The Marines in the video are shown with Lockheed-Martin’s Stalker VXE Block 30 VTOL UAV, which can be shipped in three large pelican-style cases.

Another new tool is the Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, or NGHTS, which allows the deployment of laser designation and target location at extended ranges, day and night, in a GPS-denied environment with high accuracy and “allows Marines to prosecute targets at increased standoff ranges.” 

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – Marine peers through a prototype version of the Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, March 2021 at U.S. Army Garrison Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. The Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, or NGHTS, is an innovative, man-portable targeting system allowing Marines to rapidly and accurately conduct target location and laser guidance during combat operations. Photo By: MCSC_OPAC

More on NGHTS: 
 
Years of market research, technology maturity and miniaturization resulted in NGHTS. The unit, lighter and less bulky than past targeting systems, includes a selective availability anti-spoofing module GPS, a celestial day and night compass, a digital magnetic compass, a laser designator and a laser range finder, all in a single handheld system weighing less than ten pounds.

The Marines have recently been fielding more AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (GATOR) systems, including one in Estonia but there may be something smaller at play here that was kept off-camera.

GATOR, for reference:

All in all, this all seems right on point for use across nameless Pacific atolls in addition to its already-interesting use in the Baltic.

Contract tea leaves

Last Friday had a bunch of interesting contract announcements including $450M from the Army to General Atomics for a kind of undetailed drone award (Predator, Gray Eagle, or something better?), while the Navy dropped over $70 million split between Ingalls, Lockheed, Martin-Marietta, Bollinger, Austal, Gibbs, and Hadal to keep working on drone boats. Interesting, the latter of these is specifically for “using spiral winding technology to lower the cost of high-quality carbon fiber composite unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) hulls.”

This comes after at least four large unmanned surface vessels were used in the latest RIMPAC exercises this summer and the Royal Navy just welcomed a similar vessel– XV Patrick Blackett— into their fleet.

USV Sea Hunter at RIMPAC 2022

The announcements, should you be curious:

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, was awarded a $456,246,389 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for engineering and technical services required to accomplish research, development, integration, test, sustainment and operation for unmanned aircraft systems. Bids were solicited via the internet with one received. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of July 27, 2027. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity (W31P4Q-22-D-0025).

Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi, is awarded a $13,071,106 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6319 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $ 15,071,106. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,998 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Baltimore, Maryland, is awarded an $11,320,904 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6320 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $15,070,904. Work will be performed in Moorestown New Jersey, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,941 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Marinette Marine Corp., Marinette, Wisconsin, is awarded a $10,212,620 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6317 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. Work will be performed in Marinette, Wisconsin, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,841 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC, Lockport, Louisiana, is awarded a $9,428,770 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6316 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $13,958,770. Work will be performed in Lockport, Louisiana, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,933 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Austal USA LLC, Mobile, Alabama, is awarded a $9,115,310 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6315 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $13,285,309. Work will be performed in Mobile, Alabama, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September, 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,878 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Gibbs & Cox Inc., Arlington, Virginia, is awarded an $8,981,231 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6318 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $15,071,231. Work will be performed in Arlington, Virginia, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,899 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Hadal Inc.,* Oakland, California, is awarded an $8,222,536 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the Low Cost Spiral Wound Hull that supports multiple payloads. This contract provides for using spiral winding technology to lower the cost of high-quality carbon fiber composite unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) hulls. The contractor shall develop UUV hull designs and components suitable for spiral winding. In the base effort, the contractor shall develop and prototype the first generation spiral wound hulls, associated internal housings and payload deployment systems to assess the technology maturity. The contract also contains three unexercised options, which if exercised would increase cumulative contract value to $23,604,065. Work will be performed in Oakland, California, and is expected to be completed by July 28, 2026. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $8,222,536 are obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured under N00014-22-S-B001 long range broad agency announcement (BAA) for Navy and Marine Corps Science and Technology dated Oct. 1, 2021. Since proposals are received throughout the year under the long range BAA, the number of proposals received in response to the solicitation is unknown. The Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Virginia, is the contracting activity (N00014-22-C-2023).

Outfitting the Angels

Also, with the 11th “Arctic Angels” Airborne Division being stood up in Alaska, there is lots of cold weather kit being ordered, which would seem to point to the U.S. Army getting serious about fighting in polar regions. This included $10M for CTAPS suits and another $9M for canteens that won’t freeze. Of note, the completion date on both is in next year rather than the more traditional five years. Take what you will from that:

SourceAmerica, Vienna, Virginia, was awarded a $10,622,966 firm-fixed-price contract for Cold Temperature and Arctic Protection System extreme cold weather suits. Bids were solicited via the internet with one received. Work will be performed in Vienna, Virginia, with an estimated completion date of April 28, 2023. Fiscal 2022 operation and maintenance, Army funds in the amount of $10,622,966 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is the contracting activity (W911QY-22-C-0038).

SourceAmerica, Vienna, Virginia, was awarded a $9,099,930 firm-fixed-price contract for cold weather canteens. Bids were solicited via the internet with one received. Work will be performed in Vienna, Virginia, with an estimated completion date of Nov. 30, 2023. Fiscal 2022 operation and maintenance, Army funds in the amount of $9,099,930 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is the contracting activity (W911QY-22-C-0036).

Budget Flattops of Opportunity: Entering the Age of the Drone Carrier

While China, the U.S., France, Britain and India are collectively spending billions in treasure and decades of time to develop modern supercarriers to deliver wings of advanced combat aircraft across any coastline in the world, countries with a more modest budget are going a different route.

Rather than a 40,000+ ton vessel with a crew of 1K plus in its smallest format, simpler flattops filled with UAVs are now leaving the drawing board and taking to the water.

Turkey

As previously reported, Turkey, which had built a 25,000-ton/762-foot variant of the Spanish LHA Juan Carlos I with the intention of using a dozen F-35Bs from her deck, kicking the country out of the F-35 program left it with a spare carrier and no aircraft. They have fixed that by planning to embark now Navy-operated AH-1 Cobra gunships and as many as 40 domestically-produced Bayraktar TB3s drones on deck with the promise of at least that many stowed below.

Thailand

The Royal Thai Navy took the Spanish Navy’s Príncipe de Asturias Harrier carrier design of the 1980s (which in itself was based on the old U.S. Navy’s Sea Control Ship project of the 1970s) and built the ski-jump equipped 11,500-ton HTMS Chakri Naruebet some 25 years ago.

Royal Thai Navy AV-8S Matador VSTOL fighters on HTMS Chakri Naruebet (CVH-911) harrier carrier, a capability they had from 1997-2006. 

Originally fielding a tiny force of surplus ex-Spanish AV-8S Matadors which were withdrawn from service in 2006, she has been largely relegated to use as a royal yacht and sometime LPH, reportedly only getting to sea about 12 days a year.

However, since at least last November, the Royal Thai Navy has been testing a series of drones including the locally-produced MARCUS-B (Maritime Aerial Reconnaissance Craft Unmanned System-B) Vertical Take-Off and Landing UAV from the carrier and started taking delivery of RQ-21A Blackjack drones from the U.S. in May.

Portugal

As detailed by Naval News, the Portuguese Navy (Marinha Portuguesa) unveiled details on a new drone mothership project dubbed “plataforma naval multifuncional” (multifunctional naval platform). Initial brainstorming shows an LPH-style vessel that could hit the 10,000-ton range.

The mothership is shown with two notional fixed-wing UAVs on deck (they look like MQ-1C Grey Eagle but the new MQ-9B STOL may be a better fit) as well as 6 quad-copter UAVs and one NH90 helicopter. The design seems to lack an aviation hangar. Below decks is a modular area to launch and recover AUV, UUV and USV. Portuguese Navy image.

The fixed-wing UAVs are launched via a ski jump. Portuguese Navy image.

Iran

Last week, the Iranians showed off their new “Drone-Carrier Division” in the Indian Ocean including a Kilo-class submarine Tareq (901), auxiliary ship Delvar (471), and landing ship Lavan (514). Iranian state TV claimed one unnamed vessel currently carries at least 50 drones, which isn’t unbelievable.

As noted by Janes

Most were launched from rails using rocket boosters, including what appeared to be Ababil-2 and Arash types, which can be used to conduct one-way attacks. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) television news coverage of the event showed a floating target and a target on land being hit by UAVs.

The one launched from the submarine appeared to be a new, smaller type, roughly similar in size and configuration to the Warmate loitering munition made by Poland’s WB Group.

A UAV that appeared to be an Ababil-3 – a reusable surveillance type with wheeled undercarriage – was shown taking off from Lavan from a rail. The UAV may have been fitted with a parachute and a flotation device so it can be recovered from the sea, although this was not shown.

Welcome to 2022.

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.

The 2nd Squadron of Evolution

The “White Squadron” or “Squadron of Evolution” underway off the U.S. East Coast, circa 1891. Ships are, (I-R): YORKTOWN (PG-1), BOSTON (1887) CONCORD (PG-3), ATLANTA (1887), NEWARK (C-1) CHICAGO (1889) NH 47026

In 1883, after years of neglect and the “Great Repairs” scheme of creating new ships by recycling old equipment from derelict Civil War-era vessels into new hulls with the same name old name, Congress authorized the construction of the country’s first modern steel warships: the protected cruisers Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and the gunboat Dolphin.

Known as the “ABCD Ships,” these four warships were soon augmented by others, the gunboats Bennington and Concord, bridging the gap between the old wood-and-sail navy (augmented by iron) and one of steam and steel (which still had some auxiliary sail rigs), to form the Squadron of Evolution between 1889 and 1891 to figure out how to work together.

It was the mark of technological advancement that left the ships familiar to centuries of sailors and mariners in the past and moved into what we know today. Just eight years later, the all-steel Navy proved itself handily in the Spanish American War.

Speaking of which, if you aren’t paying attention to the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21), you are missing today’s Squadron of Evolution, whose motto is:

“Haze gray and unmanned.”

As noted by Third Fleet, “UxS IBP 21 integrates manned and unmanned capabilities into the operational scenarios to generate warfighting advantages.”

“The integration between unmanned and manned capabilities shown today provides an operations approach to strengthening our manned-unmanned teaming,” said Rear Adm. James A. Aiken, UxS IBP 21 tactical commander. “Putting our newest technology into our Sailors’ hands directly enhances our fleet.”

210421-N-FC670-1009 PACIFIC OCEAN (April 21, 2021) Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) leads a formation including the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), USS Spruance (DDG 111), USS Pinckney (91), and USS Kidd (DDG 100), and the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)

You are seeing the Sea Hawk and Sea Hunter medium displacement unmanned surface vessels (USVs), equipped with what seems like VDS, working in tandem. It is not hard to imagine squadrons of these cleared to conduct autonomous ASW inside “kill boxes” where no Allied subs are hiding, with man-in-the-loop authorization before weapons release of course.

210421-N-FC670-1034 PACIFIC OCEAN (April 21, 2021) A Sea Hawk medium displacement unmanned surface vessel sails by Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)

 

210421-N-PH222-2863 PACIFIC OCEAN (April 21, 2021) Sea Hunter, an unmanned ocean-going vessel, participates in an Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem training exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Breeden)

Speaking of which, the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) seems to be interacting with Sea Hawk/Hunter, as witnessed by a large SATCOM array on her stern.

For protection, long-range unmanned surface vessels (LRUSV) have been seen operating alongside surface assets as stand-off watchdogs for the fleet, ironically a task that destroyers were originally created for: to “destroy” torpedo boat swarms before they could reach the precious battleships.

210424-N-NO824-1007 PACIFIC OCEAN (April 24, 2021) A long-range unmanned surface vessel (LRUSV) operates alongside the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) in the Pacific Ocean during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 24. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Benjamin Forman)

Speaking of which, how about the MANTAS T38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vehicle?

210421-N-GP724-1001 SAN DIEGO (April 21, 2021) System technicians perform a safety test on a MANTAS T38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vehicle (USV) in San Diego Bay for an operational test run during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Perlman)

Then there is the super low-profile SeaLandAire ADARO X-class unmanned surface vehicle, a sort of pocket USV that can be deployed in 5-minutes and incorporates a modular payload bay for snooping around coastlines in a recon role or augmenting ship protection in a counter frogman/sapper capacity. Alternatively, they could be filled with enough of an EW beacon to be used as a seductive decoy countermeasure, adding to the layered defense to counter anti-ship missiles.

Acting as a mothership for dozens of such craft could be the silver lining for the LCS program. 

210422-N-GP724-1364 SAN DIEGO (April 22, 2021) An ADARO unmanned system interacts with the Navy’s newest Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Oakland (LCS 24) during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Perlman)

210422-N-GP724-1202 SAN DIEGO (April 22, 2021) An ADARO unmanned system operates during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Perlman)

210422-N-NO824-1003 SAN DIEGO (April 22, 2021) An ADARO unmanned system participates in U.S. Pacific Fleet’s UxS IBP 21, April 22. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Nicholas Ransom)

To the air

Navalised Predator UAVs, MQ-9 SeaGuardians, keeping watch in the air, equipped for surface search and surveillance but with pylons available for ordnance if needed. It can also drop sonobuoys. 

210421-N-FC670-2103 PACIFIC OCEAN (April 21, 2021) An MQ-9 SeaGuardian unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft system flies over Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)

You want a squadron of persistent fixed-winged ASW/ASuW aircraft to fill the void left with the P-8 Poseidon replacing the P-3 Orion at a 1:3 ratio and the dry socket leftover from when the S-3 Viking left the fleet? Add a squadron of these to a secondhand container ship or tanker converted to a UAV flattop and hit the repeat button as many times as you need to if the experiment works. Bring back retired naval aviators to fly them via secure datalink and call the ball. 

Add to this other UAVs with a smaller footprint. One small enough to be used from far-flung island outposts akin to how the U.S. and Japanese sprinkled seaplane bases around the Western Pacific in WWII, only much easier and with far less infrastructure. 

210422-N-UN492-1058 POINT MUGU, Calif. (April 22, 2021) A Vanilla ultra-endurance land-launched unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) undergoes operational pre-flight checks during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21 at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. (U.S. Navy photo by Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Michael Schutt)

Talk about a glimpse into the future. 

Warship Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Just a Little DASH

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger.

Warship Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Just a Little DASH

NARA KN-1814

Here we see a great original color photo of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Hazelwood (DD-531) with an early torpedo-armed Gyrodyne-equipped Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter hovering over her newly installed flight deck, 22 March 1961. Hazelwood was an important bridge in tin can history moving from WWII kamikaze-busters into the modern destroyers we know today.

Speaking of modern destroyers, the Fletchers were the WWII equivalent of the Burke-class, constructed in a massive 175-strong class from 11 builders that proved the backbone of the fleet for generations. Coming after the interwar “treaty” destroyers such as the Benson- and Gleaves-classes, they were good-sized (376-feet oal, 2,500 tons full load, 5×5″ guns, 10 torpedo tubes) and could have passed as unprotected cruisers in 1914. Powered by a quartet of oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers and two Westinghouse or GE steam turbines, they had 60,000 shp on tap– half of what today’s Burkes have on a hull 25 percent as heavy– enabling them to reach 38 knots, a speed that is still fast for destroyers today.

USS John Rodgers (DD 574) at Charleston, 28 April 1943. A great example of the Fletcher class in their wartime configuration. Note the five 5″/38 mounts and twin sets of 5-pack torpedo tubes.

LCDR Fred Edwards, Destroyer Type Desk, Bureau of Ships, famously said of the class, “I always felt it was the Fletcher class that won the war . . .they were the heart and soul of the small-ship Navy.”

Named in honor of Continental/Pennsylvania Navy Commodore John Hazelwood, famous for defending Philadelphia and the Delaware River against British man-o-wars in 1777 with a rag-tag assortment of gunboats and galleys, the first USS Hazelwood (Destroyer No. 107) was a Wickes-class greyhound commissioned too late for the Great War and scrapped just 11 years later to comply with naval treaty obligations.

Portrait of Commodore John Hazelwood by Charles Willson Peale 1779 NH 77362-KN

The subject of our tale was laid down by Bethlehem Steel, San Francisco on 11 April 1942– some 79 years ago this week and just four months after Pearl Harbor. She was one of 18 built there, all with square bridges, as opposed to other yards that typically built a combination of both square and round bridge designs. Commissioned 18 June 1943, she was rushed to the pitched battles in the Western Pacific.

Aft plan view of the USS Hazelwood (DD 531) in San Francisco on 3 Sep 1943. Note her three aft 5″/38 mounts, depth charge racks, and torpedo tubes.

Forward pan view of the USS Hazelwood (DD 531) in San Francisco on 3 Sep 1943. A good view of her forward two 5″ mounts.

By October 1943, she was in a fast carrier task force raiding Wake Island.

Switching between TF 52 and TF 53, she took part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, Kwajalein, and Majuro Atolls in the Marshall Islands, then came the Palaus. Next came the Philippines, where she accounted for at least two kamikazes during Leyte Gulf.

Hazelwood in Measure 32, Design 6d during WWII

In early 1945, she joined TF 38, “Slew” McCain’s fast carrier strike force for his epic Godzilla bash through the South China Sea, followed up by strikes against the Japanese home islands.

Then came Okinawa.

While clocking in on the dangerous radar picket line through intense Japanese air attacks, she became the center of a blast of divine wind.

From H-Gram 045 by RADM Samuel J. Cox, Director, NHHC:

As destroyer Hazelwood was steaming to assist Haggard (DD-555) on 29 April, three Zekes dropped out of the overcast. Hazelwood shot down one, which crashed close aboard, and the other Zeke missed. The third Zeke came in from astern. Although hit multiple times, it clipped the port side of the aft stack and then crashed into the bridge from behind, toppling the mainmast, knocking out the forward guns, and spraying flaming gasoline all over the forward superstructure. Its bomb exploded, killing the commanding officer, Commander Volkert P. Douw, and many others, including Douw’s prospective relief, Lieutenant Commander Walter Hering, and the executive officer and ship’s doctor.

The engineering officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Chester M. Locke, took command of Hazelwood and directed the crew in firefighting and care of the wounded. Twenty-five wounded men had been gathered on the forecastle when ammunition began cooking off. Because of the danger of imminent explosion, the destroyer McGowan (DD-678) could not come alongside close aboard. The wounded were put in life jackets, lowered to the water, and able-bodied men dove in and swam them to McGowan. Only one of the wounded men died in the process. Hazelwood’s crew got the fires out in about two hours and McGowan took her in tow until the next morning, when Hazelwood was able to proceed to Kerama Retto under her own power and, from there, to the West Coast for repairs. Although Morison gives a casualty count as 42 killed and 26 wounded, multiple other sources state 10 officers and 67 enlisted men were killed and 36 were wounded. Locke was awarded a Navy Cross.

“USS Hazelwood survives two suicide plane attacks. US Navy Photo 126-15.” Okinawa, Japan. April 1945

USS Hazelwood (DD-531) after being hit by a kamikaze off Okinawa, 29 April 1945. Accession #: 80-G Catalog #: 80-G-187592

USS Hazelwood (DD-531), June 16, 1945. Damaged by kamikaze on April 29, 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-323986

Notably, two of her sisterships– USS Pringle (DD-477) and USS Bush (DD-529)— had been sunk by kamikaze aircraft off Okinawa less than two weeks before the attack on Hazelwood and three more– USS Luce (DD-522), USS Little (DD-803), and USS Morrison (DD-560)— would suffer a similar fate within the week afterward. Life was not easy for Fletchers working the picket line in the Spring of 1945.

Sent to Mare Island for repairs, Hazelwood was decommissioned on 18 January 1946 and entered the Pacific Reserve Fleet at San Diego, her war over.

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

Note the total lack of superstructure and the temporary open bridge rigged.  LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

She received 10 very hard-earned battle stars for her World War II service.

She was luckier than 19 of her sisters who were sunk during the conflict, along with five others who, like her, suffered extreme damage and somehow remained afloat but were beyond economic repair once the nation came looking for a peace dividend. This works out to a loss rate of about 14 percent for the class.

DASH

By the time the Korean War kicked off, and the Soviets were quickly achieving parity on the high seas due to a rapidly-expanding snorkel-equipped submarine arm, 39 improved square-bridge Fletchers were taken out of mothballs and, through the project SCB 74A upgrade, a sort forerunner of the 1960s FRAM program, given new ASW weapons such as Hedgehog and Weapon Alpha in place of anti-ship torpedo tubes, deleted a 5-inch mount (earning the nickname of “4-Gun Fletchers) and swapped WWII-era optically-trained 40mm and 20mm AAA guns for three twin radar-guided 3-in mounts.

The Navy had something else in mind for Hazelwood.

Recommissioned at San Diego on 12 September 1951, she was sent to the Atlantic for the first time to work up with anti-submarine hunter-killer groups while still in roughly her WWII configuration.

USS Hazelwood (DD-531) in the 1950s, still with 40mm Bofors, at least one set of torpedo tubes, and all 5 big guns. USN 1045624

By 1954, she was back in the Pacific, cruising the tense waters off Korea, which had just settled into an uneasy truce that has so far held out. Then came a series of cruises in the Med with the 6th Fleet.

Ordered to Narragansett Bay in 1958, she was placed at the disposal of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory to help develop the Navy’s planned anti-submarine drone. Produced by Gyrodyne Co. of America, Inc., of Long Island, New York, it was at first designated DSN-1.

It made the world’s first free flight of a completely unmanned drone helicopter, long before the term “UAV” was minted, at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River in August 1960, and Hazelwood provided onboard testing facilities, with her stern modified for flight operations with the removal of her torpedo tubes and two 5-inch mounts and the addition of a flight deck and hangar– the first time a Fletcher carried an aircraft since the brief run of a trio of catapult-equipped variants.

QH-50 prototype over Hazelwood, 1960, NARA 80-KN 1814

“U.S. Navy’s First Helicopter Destroyer Conducts Exercises. USS Hazelwood is the Navy’s first anti-submarine helicopter destroyer, steams off the Atlantic coast near Newport, Rhode Island. Attached to Destroyer Development Group Two, Hazelwood is undergoing extensive training exercises to acquaint her crew with air operations. Her flight deck is designed to accommodate the DSN-1 Drone Helicopter (QH-50) scheduled for delivery from Gyrodyne Company of America, Inc. Soon, an HTK Drone Helicopter with a safety pilot, developed by the Kaman Aircraft Company, is being used for training exercises until the DSN-1 Drone becomes available. Through the use of drone helicopter and homing torpedo, Hazelwood will possess an anti-submarine warfare kill potential at much greater range than conventional destroyers.” The photograph was released on 1 September 1959. 428-GX-USN 710543

According to the Gyrodyne Helicopter Historical Foundation, “the DASH Weapon System consisted of the installation of a flight deck, hangar facility, deck control station, CIC control station, SRW-4 transmitter facility, and fore and aft antenna installation” and could carry a nuclear depth charge or Mk44 torpedo.

Via Gyrodyne Helicopter Historical Foundation

USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531) Photographed during the early 1960s while serving as “DASH” test ship. NH 79114

 

Anti-Submarine Demonstration during the inter-American Naval conference, 1-3 June 1960. An HS-1 Seabat helicopter uses its sonar while S2F and P2V patrol planes fly over USS DARTER (SS-576), USS CALCATERRA (DER-390), and USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531). The demonstration was witnessed by Naval leaders of 10 American nations. USN 710724

USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531) during the early 1960s. Note her bright, modern-style hull numbers. NH 79115

Hazelwood received two lengthy respites from her DASH work, brought about by pressing naval events of the era. The first of these was the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962, serving as Gun Fire Support Ship for Task Force 84 during the naval quarantine of the worker’s paradise.

The second was in April 1963 when the newly built attack boat USS Thresher (SSN-593) failed to surface. Hazelwood was one of the first ships rushed to begin a systematic search for the missing submarine, escorting the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s RV Atlantis II to the site and hosting several of the lab’s scientists and equipment aboard.

After her search for Thresher, Hazelwood returned to her job with the flying robots, completing over 1,000 sorties with DASH drones in 1963 alone and helping develop the Shipboard Landing Assist Device (SLAD). That year, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara approved budgeting for enough aircraft to provide two plus one backup aircraft for each of the Navy’s 240 FRAM-1 & 2 destroyers in addition to development models.

By 1965, DASH drones were being used for hour-long “Snoopy” missions directing naval gunfire with real-time video in Vietnam at the maximum range of the ship’s 5-inchers.

With the drone, designated QH-50, ready for fleet use, Hazelwood’s work was done. Instead of a gold watch, she got what so many of her class ended up with– disposal.

Epilogue

Hazelwood decommissioned on 19 March 1965, just as the QH-50 program was fully matured and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Stricken 1 December 1974, she was subsequently sold 14 April 1976 to Union Minerals & Alloy, New York, and broken up for scrap.

Her plans, war diaries, 1950s logbooks, and reports are digitized in the National Archives. She is remembered in maritime art.

Kamikaze attacks on USS Hazelwood (DD 531), shown battered but still afloat, April 29, 1945. Artwork by John Hamilton from his publication, “War at Sea,” pg. 256. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Gallery, accession 88-66-K.

A reunion blog for her crew remained updated until 2019.

The rest of her surviving sisters were likewise widely discarded in this era by the Navy, who had long prior replaced them with Knox-class escorts. Those that had not been sent overseas as military aid was promptly sent to the breakers or disposed of in weapon tests. The class that had faced off with the last blossom of Japan’s wartime aviators helped prove the use of just about every anti-ship/tactical strike weapon used by NATO in the Cold War including Harpoon, Exocet, Sea Skua, Bullpup, Walleye, submarine-launched Tomahawk, and even at least one Sidewinder used in surface attack mode. In 1997, SEALS sank the ex-USS Stoddard (DD-566) via assorted combat-diver delivered ordnance. The final Fletcher in use around the globe, Mexico’s Cuitlahuac, ex-USS John Rodgers (DD 574), was laid up in 2001 and dismantled in 2011.

Today, four Fletchers are on public display, three of which in the U.S– USS The Sullivans (DD-537) at Buffalo, USS Kidd (DD-661) at Baton Rouge, and USS Cassin Young (DD-793) at the Boston Navy Yard. Please try to visit them if possible. Kidd, the best preserved of the trio, was used extensively for the filming of the Tom Hanks film, Greyhound.

As for the DASH, achieving IOC in late 1962, it went on to be unofficially credited as the first UAV to rescue a man in combat, carrying a Marine in Vietnam who reportedly rode its short skids away from danger and back to a destroyer waiting offshore. However, due to a lack of redundant systems, they were often lost. By June 1970, the Navy had lost or written off a staggering 411 of the original 746 QH-50C/D drone helicopters built for DASH. Retired in 1971 due to a mix of unrealized expectations, technological limitations for the era (remember, everything was slide rules and vacuum tubes then), and high-costs, OH-50s remained in military use with the Navy until 1997, soldiering on as targets and target-tows. The last operational DASH, ironically used by the Army’s PEO STRI-TMO, made its final flight on 5 May 2006, at the SHORAD site outside the White Sands Missile Range, outliving the Fletchers in usefulness.

A few are preserved in various conditions around the country, including at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum.

Ever since USS Bronstein (DE/FF-1037) was commissioned in 1963, the U.S. Navy has more often than not specifically designed their escorts to operate helicopters, be they unmanned or manned.

Specs:
Displacement 2,924 Tons (Full),
Length: 376′ 5″(oa)
Beam: 39′ 7″
Draft: 13′ 9″ (Max)
Machinery, 60,000 SHP; Westinghouse Turbines, 2 screws
Speed, 38 Knots
Range 6500 NM@ 15 Knots
Crew 273.
Armament:
5 x 5″/38 AA,
6 x 40mm Bofors
10/11 x 20mm AA
10 x 21″ tt.(2×5)

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