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Perishable skills, or the Navy is actually running Atlantic Convoy Ex again

The best tactic to beat the vile threat of U-boats in the Great War was the convoy, be it coastal, trans-oceanic, or whatever.

July 1917: A photograph taken from the ersatz gunboat USS Rambler (SP-211) of a 25-ship convoy nearing Brest, France. NH 158

In WWII, the convoy was brushed off again, with success in the Atlantic, Med, and Pacific. An old tactic, but still a good one.

A staple of Cold War planning, ships like the Knox-, Spruance– and Perry-class frigates and destroyers were created with the purpose of shepherding convoys to Europe for NATO through a sea filled with Soviet attack subs and long-ranging Bear bombers.

Then, with the thaw in the late-1980s, the convoy tactic, with the exception of limited escorts in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, fell out of favor.

In short, convoying is a thing your Dad’s Navy and Grandpa’s Navy did.

With the 2nd Fleet rebooted, the Navy– for the first time since 1989– last week ran a convoy exercise in the Atlantic with a surface warfare asset and escorted mercies.

While MSC regularly tries to do such ops, it is usually just simulated and doesn’t include an actual escort or more than one vessel, so, while the four-ship group is small, at least it is a good sign of working those age-old skills that are sorely out of practice.

200228-N-PI330-0486 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 28, 2020) A convoy comprised of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), right, the vehicle carrier MV Resolve, center, and the Military Sea Lift Command (MSC) roll-on roll-off cargo ship USNS Benavidez (T-AKR 306) steam in formation. This exercise simulates an opposed transit, testing the fleets’ abilities to safely cross the Atlantic while testing new ways of conducting a convoy in today’s maritime environment. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Waters/Released)

Plus, and the photo doesn’t show this, the group was screened over the horizon by the Ike carrier group while Navy P-8 ASW/ASuW aircraft and an SSN was on tap as well.

From 2nd Fleet PAO: 

NORFOLK (NNS) — U.S. 2nd Fleet, on behalf of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and in conjunction with Military Sealift Command (MSC), is conducting convoy operations across the Atlantic, employing the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) alongside USNS Benavidez, MV Resolve, and MV Patriot.

Sealift remains the primary method for transporting military equipment, supplies, and material around the world. With the return to peer competition and access to sea lanes no longer guaranteed, it is important that the Navy and MSC train together in order to ensure the successful delivery and sustainment of combat power necessary for the joint force to fight and win anywhere around the globe.

“In a real-world conflict, much of the military equipment must still go by sealift, which makes convoy operations a critical skill set to maintain and practice,” said Capt. Hans E. Lynch, commodore Military Sealift Command Atlantic. “In the last five years, there has been an increased emphasis on including Merchant Marine shipping in large scale exercises to enhance tactical proficiency. Exercises that incorporate convoy operations are an extension of that ongoing tactical training.”

This exercise will simulate an opposed transit, testing the fleets’ abilities to safely cross the Atlantic while testing new ways of conducting a convoy in today’s environment. Convoy operations were critical during WWI and WWII as the primary method for moving troops and military equipment, supplies and material to Europe. After WWII, convoys became less prevalent in the Atlantic theater, although still practiced in other areas of operation.

“The Atlantic is a battlespace that cannot be ignored,” said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander U.S. 2nd Fleet. “We need to be prepared to operate at the high end alongside our allies, partners and adversaries alike as soon as we’re underway.”

During her operations in the Atlantic, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), along with P-8s from VP-4 and a U.S. submarine, cleared the maritime battlespace prior to the transit of the Vella Gulf-escorted MSC convoy.

“The coordination between NAVEUR, 2nd Fleet, and 6th Fleet are indicative of a seamless Atlantic Ocean,” said Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, NAVEUR. “This exercise allows us to sharpen our ability to move critical resources across the Atlantic, from the United States to Europe.”

“As I have said before, logistics is the sixth domain of warfare, and a critical part of any successful operation or exercise,” Foggo said. “The transatlantic bridge is just as important today for moving troops and military equipment, supplies and material from the United States to Europe as it has been at any point in history.”

2nd Fleet and 6th Fleet work together to ensure the security of sea-lanes of communication in the Atlantic. If called upon, the Department of Defense’s sealift transportation fleet expects to move approximately 90 percent of required assets from the U.S. to the theatre of conflict. The safest and quickest way to get needed materials to the front lines is via maritime convoy.

“We, as a Navy, are inherently linked with the broader maritime industry and this exercise provides a great opportunity to train like we fight,” said Capt. Andrew Fitzpatrick, commander, USS Vella Gulf. “Practicing convoy operations flexes a blue-water, high-end skill for the first time in many years, enabling us all to operate on, above, and below the sea in a contested environment.”

YOU can help! FAA fixing to put the Whammy on RC plane clubs, drones

While dropping in at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile on a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday morning, you are likely to hear the roar of RC aircraft of all sorts. The park, just off the bow of the retired Gato-class diesel boat USS Drum (SS-228), is home to the Lower Alabama RC club, a group that has been around since 1975.

The LARC Club. The shot was taken from the Drum’s bow on Saturday by moi. In short, an RC aircraft strip. No, the MiG is not an RC plane.

The hobbyists of the LARC club, which requires membership in the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and to comply with the AMA Safety Code, swoop and swirl their aircraft deftly over the uninhabited marshland, remaining well under 400 feet AGL. They hurt no one, damage nothing except their own planes on accident, and add to the wonder of the park, which is often filled with wide-eyed youth visiting the ships and aircraft displays.

If a kid sees an RC Spitfire or Corsair zipping around while there, that could spark a life-long interest or career in aviation– and with the future of a massive increase in drone flight very real, that is a good thing.

The thing is, the Federal Aviation Administration has a proposed regulation that would require almost every drone, quadcopter and RC aircraft in the sky to broadcast its location over the Internet at all times. Sound innocent, right? However, the rule would probably wipe out the hobby that has been around for generations.

As noted by ArsTechnica: 

In many cases, it may not even be possible for people to upgrade their existing aircraft to the new standard. The FAA rule states that a compliant drone needs to have a serial number that was issued by the device’s manufacturer in compliance with the new rules. Yet many RC aircraft are built by small companies who never intended to get into the commercial drone business. They might not have the technical resources to comply with the new standards or the legal resources to get FAA approval.

The FAA aims to allow a few RC/drone airfields like the one in Mobile run by “community-based organizations” where the rules could be relaxed on hobby-built craft, but that exemption would only be for a year.

After that, the agency thinks everyone will just kinda hang it up:

At the end of that 12-month period, no new applications for FAA-recognized identification areas would be accepted. After that date, the number of FAA-recognized identification areas could therefore only remain the same or decrease. Over time, the FAA anticipates that most UAS without remote identification will reach the end of their useful lives or be phased out. As these numbers dwindle, and as compliance with remote identification requirements becomes cheaper and easier, the number of UAS that need to operate only at FAA-recognized identification areas would likely drop significantly.

Public comments are open until 11:59pm on Monday. Let them know what you think if you have a minute. 

Who Wants a Deal on a Historic Coast Guard Cutter?

Robert Morris was an Englishman, born in Liverpool in 1734. Coming to the Pennsylvania colony in his teens, by 1775 he was a wealthy merchant and turned his business acumen into buying arms for the colonial militia. This role grew until Alexander Hamilton described him as the “Financier of the Revolution.” One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and for a time considered the “de facto commander” of the Continental Navy (he even sold the first armed man-of-war to Congress), Morris later turned down the role of the country’s first treasury secretary, suggesting Hamilton for the position instead.

Rather than be remembered on the $10 bill, Morris was honored by four early U.S. Navy vessels that were named after him between 1776 and 1846, and well as a few Coast Guard cutters (which until 1967 was under the Treasury Department).

The first cutter named after Morris was a Baltimore Clipper-style schooner built in 1831 at the New York Navy Yard. Some 73-feet in length and armed with a half-dozen 9-pounders, she was not a commanding vessel but was good enough to bust smugglers and fight pirates. Nonetheless, USRC Morris participated in the Mexican War as part of Capt. John Webster’s nine-cutter squadron and, on her way back to the East Coast, was driven ashore at Key West by a hurricane in 1846.

U.S. Revenue Cutter Morris (1831) by H. A. Roath, painting circa 1855, via Philadelphia Museum 1967-268-3-ov

The second USRC Morris, commissioned in 1848, was a 102-foot topsail schooner constructed of yellow pine, white and live oak, locust, cedar, and mahogany. Armed in 1861 with “1 x 32-pounder pivot-mounted cannon; 1 x brass 12-pound howitzer; 12 Maynard rifles; 12 smoothbore muskets; 12 pistols; 19 cutlasses; 11 boarding pikes and 18 battle axes,” Morris was notably detached to scour the North Atlantic that year in search of the Confederate privateer brig Jefferson Davis.

Revenue Cutter Morris prepares to board the British passenger vessel Benjamin Adams on 16 July 1861 about 200 miles east of New York, by Gil Cohen (Photo: USCG)

She was sold in 1868.

The third– and final U.S. vessel named for Morris– was a 125-foot Active-class Coast Guard cutter built in 1927 at American Brown Boveri Electric Corp., Camden, NJ.

We have profiled the 125s, best known as the “buck-and-a-quarter” class, in several Warship Wednesdays (See: Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor).

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) operated first out of New London until 22 November 1928. She then assumed her permanent station at Oakland, California, on 13 January 1929, conducting patrol operations and operating intermittently against rumrunners through 1934. She was then transferred to Seward, Alaska until 1937, before ultimately returning to the West Coast.

Transferring to Navy control 1 November 1941, Morris was designated a subchaser and assigned to patrol and rescue operations out of San Diego during WWII until 1 January 1946. She assumed postwar USCG patrol duties out of San Pedro, which was her permanent station through 1969.

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) late in her career. Note her 40mm Bofors forward, which was fitted in 1942. (USCG photo)

Decommissioned on 7 August 1970 after 43 years of hard service, she was then transferred to Boy Scouts where she was active with the Sea Scout program in Stockton as SSS Morris until recent years. In the early 2000s, she received $2 million in repairs and restoration paid for by Bob French and was donated in 2015 to the Liberty-Maritime Museum, who has had her for sale since 2016, priced at around $250K.

That asking price was reduced to $195K last year and is now at a comparative fire sale on Craigslist for $90,000. 

The ad for posterity:

1927 125′ Coast Guard Cutter Morris asking $90,000 obo – an amazing vessel for this price! Major overhaul ($2 million approx.) completed in 2010. Cummins KTAs, Northern Lights gen sets, ARPA radars, bow thruster. All wiring and piping replaced. Hull plating, railings, tanks and decks replaced as needed. Operational but due for a haul-out and one prop repair. Anchored near Rio Vista, recently cruised but surplus to our needs. Suitable as an ocean cruising vessel or live-aboard. State of California registration, current insurance.

What more could you ask for?

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Here we see the 125-foot Active-class patrol craft USCGC Tiger (WPC-152) in 1928 during Prohibition. One of a class of 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” cutters rushed into completion to deal with rumrunners, these choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in time of war and Tiger would be there the moment the balloon went up over Pearl Harbor.

These cutters were intended for trailing the slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.

For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s. In a time of conflict, they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.

Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).

Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker only used previously by the Civil War-era 100-foot steam tug Tiger which had been bought in 1861 for $9,000 from the Patapsco Steam Co. by the Revenue Marine Service– forerunner of the Coast Guard– and used to patrol Chesapeake Bay and the approaches to New York City alternatively during the conflict, boarding “with revolvers” as many as 20 craft a day in search of contraband and rebel blockade runners.

The brand-new USCGC Tiger was NYSB Hull No. 346 and was completed on 29 April 1927. Placed in commission on 3 May, she operated out of Coast Guard Base Two at Stapleton, New York, hitting Rum Row with a vengeance in the closing days of the war on illegal liquor. As the Volstead Act was repealed, she transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for more traditional coastal SAR and fisheries patrol work, arriving there on 6 June 1933.

Durable for their size, Tiger and her sisters were well-liked by their crews and would go on to soldier on for several more decades. Constructed with 3×3 Douglas fir frames on a steel hull, they gained a reputation for being solid ships but were considered too slow (go figure) and were subsequently re-engined in the late 1930s with their original 6-cylinder diesels replaced by more powerful 8-cylinder units on the same beds that gave the vessels three additional knots or so. This left them with a changed profile, as they picked up a large (for their size) stack just behind the wheelhouse.

The 125 foot cutter Dexter, post-conversion. Note the stack.

By 1940, Tiger was assigned to the Hawaii Territory along with her sister Reliance (WPC-150), where they soon picked up depth charges, Lewis guns, and grey paint from the Navy. Such equipped, the class was redesignated as Coast Guard submarine chasers (WSC). The Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department on 1 November 1941, making the lead-up to WWII official.

Speaking of lead up, both Tiger and Reliance, along with the 327-foot cutter Taney (WPG-37) were assigned to the Navy’s Inshore Patrol Command under CDR John Wooley along with four old destroyers and four minesweepers. This group was tasked by Pacific Fleet boss ADM Husband E. Kimmel to patrol the shoreline around Pearl Harbor and keep an eye peeled for both spies and saboteurs as well as strange periscopes.

That brings us to the morning of 7 December 1941.

On patrol off Oahu that morning, Tiger, under the command of CWO William J. Mazzoni, received a flash from the destroyer USS Ward, a fellow member of the Inshore Patrol Command, around 0645 claiming destruction of an unidentified submarine trying to come through the nets into Pearl– one it had been searching for since 0357 after it had been reportedly spotted by the minesweeper Condor. Said periscope turned out to be one of the series of Japanese midget subs sent to attack Battleship Row at the beginning of the air assault.

USS Ward, The First Shot, by Tom Freeman

The Japanese Striking Force had five Type A midget submarines for the attack, which were transported on larger Type I submarines. These submarines were launched the night before the attack. USS Ward (DD-139) spotted one of the submarines trying to enter the harbor before dawn and was sunk.

This put Tiger on alert and she soon made ready for a real-live shooting war.

At 0720, just after passing the Barber’s Point buoy, Tiger’s WWI-era listening gear picked up a contact now believed by some to be Japanese midget submarine HA-19, a two-man Type A boat that was bumping around off reefs with a broken compass.

At 0753, as the first wave of 183 armed Japanese carrier planes swung around Barber’s Point, allowing a view into Pearl Harbor and the seven slumbering dreadnoughts below, CDR Mitsuo Fuchida ordered the radioman in his Kate torpedo bomber to tap out the later-infamous “Tora, Tora, Tora” (tiger, tiger, tiger) signal, the code words back to the Japanese fleet that the inbound airstrike had caught the Americans unaware.

While still looking unsuccessfully for subs, right around 0800, Tiger started receiving fire that fell within 100 yards of her, with Mazzoni radioing Pearl that he saw Japanese warplanes inbound overhead.

Author James C. Bunch, in his 1994 work Coast Guard Combat Veterans: Semper Paratus, says that “USCGC Tiger (WSC-152) was, by a few seconds, the first U.S. vessel to be fired upon in Pearl Harbor.”

Suffering no casualties from their early interactions with the Emperor’s submariners or aircrew, Tiger also inflicted no damage on the Japanese that day, being out of range of the carnage going on the harbor. Nonetheless, she did come under ineffective fire later that day from U.S. Army shore batteries that were amped up and loaded for bear.

The next day, HA-19 was recovered, aground on Waimanalo Beach in eastern Oahu. Manned by ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, the midget submarine had depleted its batteries on the evening of 7 December and was abandoned. Its scuttling charge failed, Sakamaki became the only Japanese serviceman captured in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Inagaki’s body was recovered later.

(Japanese Type A midget submarine) Beached in eastern Oahu, after it unsuccessfully attempted to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. : 80-G-32680

Surviving her baptism of fire, Tiger would still be very busy throughout December on the search for Japanese submarines off Hawaii, which at the time were running wild in the area. Sadly, this meant picking up the pieces left in their wake.

On 21 December, Tiger arrived at Kahului, Maui, with the 30 survivors of the sunken Matson Navigation Co. steamer SS Lahaina (5645grt). The waterlogged mariners had nine days earlier fallen prey to the Japanese submarine I-9 under CDR Akiyoshi Fujii, who had sunk her in a prolonged surface action 700 miles NE of Oahu. During their wait for rescue two of the crew had committed suicide by jumping from their overcrowded lifeboat while another two died of exposure.

It would not be the only time Tiger performed such a vital mission.

On 28 December, Tiger rescued one of the two lifeboats of the Matson steamer SS Manini (3545grt) which had been torpedoed and sunk 11 days prior by I-75/I-175 (CDR Inoue) while en route from Hawaii to San Francisco. The previous day, the cutter had picked up 13 men and the first officer of the Lykes steamer SS Prusa (5113grt) which had been torpedoed and sent to the bottom by I-172 (CDR Togami) on 16 December.

Tiger remained based out of Honolulu for the duration of the war on local patrol and antisubmarine duties in the Hawaiian Sea Frontier.

Tiger received one battle star for her wartime service.

By the end of the war, Tiger, like her sisters, had been fitted with both radar and sonar as well as upgrading their 3″/23 hood ornament for a more functional 40mm/60 Bofors single, their Lewis guns for 20mm/80s, and augmenting their depth charges with Mouse Trap ASW rocket devices.

The somewhat incorrect Jane’s listing for the class in 1946, showing a prewar image and listing their 1939 armament.

Decommissioned 12 November 1947, Tiger was sold 14 June 1948.

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.

These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.

Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow.

While some, like Tiger, were disposed of in the late 1940s, others remained in USCG service into the 1960s and 1970s.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Epilogue

With her service to the country over with, Tiger later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star

Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam and installed as a breakwater.

Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).

There has not been another USCGC Tiger.

Specs

(1927)
Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
Armament:
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

(1945)
Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: Two 8-cylinder, 300 hp Cooper-Bessemer EN-9 diesels (600hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
Armament:
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings
2 × depth charge tracks, stern
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward

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Indianapolis arriving, Delaware delivered, Finally Ford, McCain in play, and the Tulagi Shuffle

Over the weekend in the freshwater Great Lakes harbor at Burns Harbor, Indiana, USS Indianapolis (LCS-17), the latest Freedom-class littoral combat ship, commissioned. She is the fourth such vessel, and second surface combatant, to carry the moniker. While I would personally have liked to see a cruiser, LHA, or destroyer carry the name due to the legacy of CA-58, the second Indianapolis, I am nonetheless happy to see the name on the Navy list once again. Indy is the 19th LCS to be commissioned and is expected to be assigned to Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two in Mayport. She is the fifth such Freedom assigned to LCSRON2.

USS Delaware

Elsewhere in U.S. Navy news last week, the latest Virginia-class attack submarine, PCU USS Delaware (SSN 791) was delivered to the Navy by Ingalls. Notably, when she is fully commissioned as the 7th Delaware, it will end a nearly century-long drought on the Navy List for that name which was last issued to Battleship No. 28 in 1909, a vessel that was broken up for scrap under the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. SSN-791 is the 18th Virginia and last of the Block III boats.

USS Gerald R. Ford

Further, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) finally departed Newport News Shipbuilding and returned to sea for the first time since beginning their post-shakedown availability in July 2018 (!) to get back to the business of conducting sea trials, now well over a year since she was commissioned. Navy officials hope she will be ready for regular fleet service by 2024.

John S. McCain

Speaking of gone for a while, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is underway to conduct comprehensive at-sea testing. She has been sidelined for repairs and extensive, accelerated upgrades over the last two years, following a collision in August 2017.

“This whole crew is eager to get back to sea, and that’s evident in the efforts they’ve made over the last two years to bring the ship back to fighting shape, and the energy they’ve put into preparing themselves for the rigors of at-sea operations,” said CDR Ryan T. Easterday, John S. McCain‘s commanding officer. “I’m extremely proud of them as we return the ship to sea, and return to the operational fleet more ready than ever to support security and stability throughout the region.”

Tulagi?

And in South Pacific news, the planned 75-year lease on the entire island of Tulagi (Tulaghi) in the Solomon Islands looks like it is going to fall through. Well known to students of WWII, the Japanese occupied Tulagi in May 1942 in the days just before the Battle of the Coral Sea and was captured by the 1st Marine Raiders that August, forming an important PT-boat base during the Guadalcanal Campaign (JFK’s PT-109, part of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2, operated from there.) They proved important in winning control of “The Slot” during that campaign. Likewise, if the Japanese had held Tulagi that summer, the whole operation would have been just that much harder to pull off.

Japanese Navy Type 1 land attack planes (Betty) make a torpedo attack on the Tulagi invasion force, 8 August 1942. The burning ship in the center distance is probably USS George F. Elliott (AP-13), which was hit by a crashing Japanese aircraft during this attack. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97766

As the crow flies, Tulagi could have been a strategic key to that part of the region as it is directly between Hawaii and Australia. This is especially true if you could pick up those keys for cheap on an extended multi-generational lease.

”I want to applaud the decision of the Solomon Islands attorney general to invalidate the Chinese effort to lease the island of Tulagi for 75 years,” said Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper. “This is an important decision to reinforce sovereignty, transparency, and the rule of law. Many nations in the Pacific have discovered far too late that Chinese use of economic and military levers to expand their influence often is detrimental to them and their people.”

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.

Smoking Narco Boats Left and Right

It seems like the Coasties aren’t even having to try these days.

While cruising from the builder’s yard at Pascagoula to her future homeport in Honolulu, where she is set to be commissioned 24 August, the country’s newest National Security Cutter, PCU USCGC Midgett (WMSL 757), bagged a top-level narco boat.

Midgett seized over a ton of coke worth $64 million “from a low-profile go-fast vessel (LPV) interdicted in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.”

Pretty sweet profile

The inside of the boat showed that, A) potential smugglers can’t be claustrophobic, but B) are likely fans of Narcos on Netflix.

Notably, the move was a lay-up as a Burke in the area had bird dogged the smuggler and handed the bust over to the Midgett to handle.

From the Coast Guard:

On July 25 a U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk aircrew embarked aboard the USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) sighted a low-profile go-fast vessel. As the helicopter approached, a hatch opened on the top of the vessel and three passengers were seen jettisoning objects.

The Michael Murphy remained with the suspected smuggling vessel until the Midgett arrived on scene to conduct a law enforcement boarding. Midgett’s boarding team seized approximately 2,100 pounds of cocaine from the interdiction and apprehended three suspected smugglers.

“Even though the cutter is still in a pre-commission status, this interdiction showcases how ready our crew is and how capable the national security cutters are,” said Capt. Alan McCabe, Midgett’s commanding officer. “It also demonstrates the importance of our partnership with the U.S. Navy, whose contributions are vital in stemming the flow of drugs into the United States.”

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