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Headed to work, 16 years ago today

Here we see the Hamilton-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas (WHEC-716) as she escorts the motor vessel BBC Spain. Aboard Spain‘s deck are a quartet of USCG 110-foot Island-class patrol boats headed via the Mediterranean and Suez for deployment to the Persian Gulf, March 19, 2003.

While Dallas was stricken and transferred to the Philippines in 2012– where she continues to serve in a haze gray scheme as BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16)— and BBC Spain is now the Russian-flagged cargo vessel S. Kuznetsov — those four patrol boats are still under the same flag in the Persian Gulf, clocking in.

USCG Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), established in 2002 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside of the U.S. The original four WPBs shown above on SpainAdak, Aquidneck, Baranof, and Wrangell– were joined by Monomoy and Maui in May 2004 bringing the number of 110s in the Arabian Gulf to six.

Why?

The Navy likes to use the Coast Guard’s small patrol boats (110s/87s) in confined littoral areas as the coasties have them while the Navy simply doesn’t. After all, why risk a $1 billion destroyer with a 300-man crew when the USCG has an $8 million patrol boat with a 22-man crew that can get in closer and already has hundreds of (often high-risk) boardings under their belt before they rotate into the Gulf.

Plus (and this is just my humble opinion) it would look worse if the Iranians shoot up a white hulled coastie than a haze gray warship. I mean these are lifesavers here.

180201-N-TB177-0211 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Feb. 1, 2018) Island-class patrol boats USCGC Wrangell left, USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309), middle, and coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) patrol the open seas. Wrangell, Aquidneck, and Firebolt are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin J. Steinberg/Released)

They did the same thing in Vietnam when some 26 82-foot Point-class cutters served as an assembled Patrol Squadron off the South Vietnamese coast from 1965 to 1970.

Since 2002, the Coast Guard has forward deployed six of their WPBs to Manama, Bahrain to serve in the Persian Gulf littoral. After all these boats can stay at sea for a week at a time, have a cutter boat, a decent surface search radar, can make 29-knots, and float in just 7 feet of seawater– which the Big Blue has a hard time pulling off. The force is very active, typically having 3-4 patrol boats underway in the Gulf at any given time looking for pirates, smugglers, terrorists out to pull off another USS Cole-style attack, and, well, the Iranians.

USCGC Monomoy in the PG, looking a bit more hard-ridden and heavily armed.

Whereas normally Island-class cutters deploy stateside with a 16 man (2 officer/14 enlisted) crew, those that are part of PATFORSWA typically run with a 22 person complement (3 officers/19 enlisted) as they conduct more high-risk boardings and have an increased ship’s battery. The stateside armament suite of a 110 is a 25mm Mk38 chain-gun (which is usually covered) and two single M2 .50-cal BMGs (which often are locked up below in the armory) plus a thin smattering of small arms.

Those cutters in the Gulf still use the 25mm (usually very much uncovered and loaded, ready to go) and up to five mounts for Mk19 Grenade launchers and *twin* M2’s for quite a bit more punch against boghammars and armed dhows if needed. Likewise, there are more M4s, Remmy 870s, hard plate body armor and Sig P229Rs on these forward-deployed ships than one that is poking around the Outer Banks.

Nevertheless, they still keep the same traditional white hull and red racing stripe, but with the welcome addition of a deck canopy to keep that Persian Gulf sun at bay and the non-skid from heating up to waffle-iron temperatures.

NORTH ARABIAN GULF–U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui (WPB 1304) is on standby as the Close Support Vessel during a security boarding in the North Arabian Gulf, Aug. 11. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ltjg. Peter Lang.

 

The country’s one-and-only polar icebreaker made it back home (barely)

Seattle saw the reappearance of “Building 10,” the common designation of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), as she returned this week to her homeport after an epic 105-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the 63rd year for the annual mission to supply McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

This place:

Forget what you have heard about no more ice: Upon arrival in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Polar Star still had to break through 16.5 nautical miles of ice, six to ten feet thick, in order to open a channel to the pier for supply ships to follow.

As the vessel is 43-years-young and has seen lots of hard service (she rams icebergs on purpose) things did not go as planned along the 11,200-mile sortie.

From the Coast Guard:

During the transit to Antarctica, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed. The electrical switchboard was repaired by the crew, and the ship’s evaporator was repaired after parts were received during a port call in Wellington, New Zealand.

The impact from ice operations ruptured the cutter’s centerline shaft seal, allowing water to flood into the ship. Ice breaking operations ceased so embarked Coast Guard and Navy Divers could enter the water to apply a patch outside the hull so Polar Star’s engineers could repair the seal from inside the ship. The engineers donned dry suits and diver’s gloves to enter the 30-degree water of the still slowly flooding bilge to effect the vital repairs. They used special tools fabricated onboard to fix the leaking shaft seal and resume ice breaking operations.

The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice in McMurdo Sound. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.

On Feb. 10, the crew spent nearly two hours extinguishing a fire in the ship’s incinerator room while the ship was approximately 650-nautical-miles north of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The fire damaged the incinerator and some electrical wiring in the room was damaged by fire fighting water. There were no personnel injuries or damage to equipment outside the space. Repairs to the incinerator are already scheduled for Polar Star’s upcoming inport maintenance period.

Sheesh.

And keep in mind that for at least one pay period while underway the crew went without the eagle flying due to the lapse in appropriations.

The good news is, the Coast Guard is seeking to pick up six new polar icebreakers and the FY19 budget actually appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new “polar security cutter” this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second. So they may actually get two out of the planned six when all is said and done.

Hopefully, Polar Star can hold out till then.

Also, did I mention the Russians have 50 icebreakers?

Navy gives LCS’s minesniffer a thumb’s up (finally)

The Navy last week announced the completion of developmental testing for Raytheon’s AN/AQS-20C mine-hunting sonar system at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division.

This thing:

For these things:

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 27, 2019) The Independence variant littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, USS Manchester (LCS 14), and USS Tulsa (LCS 16) are underway in formation in the eastern Pacific. Littoral combat ships are high-speed, agile, shallow draft, mission-focused surface combatants designed for operations in the littoral environment, yet fully capable of open ocean operations. As part of the surface fleet, LCS has the ability to counter and outpace evolving threats independently or within a network of surface combatants. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 27, 2019) The Independence variant littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, USS Manchester (LCS 14), and USS Tulsa (LCS 16) are underway in formation in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe/Released)

The presser:

The AQS-20C is the next generation of the AN/AQS-20 system designed to be incorporated into the Littoral Combat Ship Mine Countermeasures Mission Package. The system consists of four sonar arrays: two side-looking arrays; a gap-filler sonar array; and a forward-looking sonar array providing simultaneous detection, localization, and classification of bottom mines, close-tethered moored mines, and volume-moored mines.

The system delivers high-definition images of bottom mines, providing the operator with both range and contrast data that combine to form a three-dimensional image during post-mission analysis to aid in mine identification.

Developmental testing verifies that a system’s design meets all technical specifications and that all contract requirements have been met. During testing the Raytheon-developed towed sonar sensor conducted 12 underway missions in various operational modes and at different depths at four separate NSWC PCD test ranges. The missions were conducted aboard the test vessel M/V Patriot.

The AQS-20C will now be integrated with and deployed from the Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MCM USV), a long-endurance, semi-autonomous, diesel-powered, all-aluminum surface craft that supports the employment of various mine countermeasure payloads. The MCM USV can be launched and recovered by the LCS, from other vessels of opportunity or from shore sites to provide minesweeping, mine-hunting, and mine neutralization capabilities. The MCM USV is currently undergoing developmental testing as a component of the Unmanned Influence Sweep System at the South Florida Test Facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Test results will now undergo scoring and performance assessment leading up to a final developmental testing report that is expected to be completed in the spring. Findings from this report will be used for future performance improvements of the system.

Ghosts of Dolphins’ past

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Jessica Wright.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Jessica Wright.

Above is an EADS HC-144B Ocean Sentry at Corpus Christi, Texas on Feb. 20, 2019. The Sentry is the navalised maritime patrol version of the CN-235 cargo plane made for the U.S. Coast Guard. The model recently was shifted from CGATS Mobile to Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi’s newest addition and has a number of upgrades from the earlier A-series that will allow aircrews to gather and process surveillance information that can be transmitted to other platforms and units during flight.

If the livery looks different, it is one of two modified in 2016 to celebrate the 100th year of U.S. Coast Guard aviation. The throwback scheme was carried by the bakers dozen Douglas RD-4 Dolphin seaplanes the Coast Guard flew from 1934 to 1943, with a dark blue fuselage, yellow on top of the wings, red and white on the tail, and silver metallic on the belly, underneath the wings, and for the engine cowlings and a stripe on the tail.

The Dolphin, a modification of Douglas’s 1930s Sinbad “flying yacht,” gave yeoman service in the 1930s and 40s in search and rescue and both the Army and Navy picked up a few of their own. Several saw WWII service.

Right side view of U.S. Coast Guard Douglas RD-4 Dolphin on water, men are about to be transferred to onto the aircraft from a burning motorboat which is to the right of the aircraft. 1936. NASM-XRA-4038

Only 58 were made and there was a flying example still airworthy in the early 1990s.

The last known surviving example of the venerable amphibian is at the Naval Air & Space Museum in Pensacola.

That time the Navy needed binos so bad it asked for loaners

To say that the U.S. entered the Great War in 1917 unprepared was an understatement. With a standing Army that was smaller than almost any European combatant with the possible exception of Portugal (who could still field 8 deployable divisions in addition to colonial troops in Africa and the Far East), the U.S. Navy was by far more ready for war than Uncle’s lean green machine. Nonetheless, with the need to add hundreds of destroyers, subchasers and other escorts to protect vital sea lanes to get the boys “Over There,” the American maritime lift was going to be a big one.

With that in mind, the most vital tools used for surface navigation in the days before surface search radar were soon in short supply– good binoculars.

Lieutenant Frank E. Beatty, Jr. Caption: Standing aboard USS NEW YORK, performing submarine lookout. Photographed in the North Sea in 1918. NH 56125

To meet this pressing and urgent need, Asst. SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt kicked off the public appeal known as the “Eyes for the Navy” program run by the Naval Observatory.

Will you supply eyes for the Navy Poster; by Gordon Grant; 1917; Unframed Dimensions 29H x 20W 99-064-l

The concept was simple: Americans could loan Uncle the use of their privately held binoculars (Zeiss or Bausch & Lomb, preferred), spyglasses, etc. for the duration to help do their part for the push against the Kaiser.

In return, they would get a $1 rental fee, a certificate for their effort, and, if still available once the war ended, their often well-traveled glass back.

Letter for the return of Binoculars, WWI NHHC 2016.062

The letter reads:

Navy Department
U.S. Naval Observatory
Washington, D.C.

Subject: return of articles, in connection with the NAVY’S call for binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and other navigation instruments.

1. There is being returned to you by registered mail the article received from you in response to the NAVY’S call.

2. An engraved certificate evidencing the participation of this article in the war, is now being prepared and will be forwarded to you at a subsequent date.

3. It is hoped that any evidence of wear or damage will be compensated for by the fact that a great service has been performed and that historic interest has been added to the article returned.

Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Pay order issued by the Treasurer of the United States to C.A. Bonnell, dated Oct. 19, 1918, for the amount of one dollar as part of the “Eyes for the Navy” program. NHHC 1966-332-A

“Eyes for the Navy”, WWI certificate issued to one Edward Mann, whose glasses “did their part.” NHHC 1991-125-B

The text of the certificate reads:

The United States of America
Department of the Navy

The thousands of binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and navigation instruments furnished the Navy by individuals in response to its appeal for “Eyes for the Navy” have been a vital contribution in the protection of our warships, transports and supply vessels against the submarine activities of the enemy during the Great War.

The Navy acknowledges with thanks and appreciation your cooperation and this certificate is issued to Edwin Mann in recognition of the sacrifice made for the safety of our ships and the assurance of final victory.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Assistant Secretary of the Navy

You bump into the coolest things at SHOT

So I am in Nevada for SHOT Show and got to spend all day on the range yesterday, where I came upon this bad boy.

Arizona-based aviation and defense company Profense was showing off their PF556, a down-sized version of the M134 Mini-Gun in 5.56mm rather than the more traditional 7.62x51mm.

As the gun only weighs 38-pounds, all-up it tips the scales at 110-pounds with a 1,500-round hopper.

The electrically-driven system (48 VDC) uses a fully programmable digital GCU that uses full brushless motor control of the weapon and ammo booster, allowing an adjustable rate of fire between 600 at 4,000 rounds-per-minute at the flip of a switch.

PF says the mount can be used on vessels, ROVs, vehicles, and other applications– including remote use.

PoR…

Sad times on the icebreaking front

While the U.S. Navy ordered a class of 8 heavily-armed polar icebreakers in WWII (the Wind-class, which carried twin 5″/38 DP mounts, 40mm Bofors, 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, seaplanes and an ASW mortar), as well as the larger single-vessel USS Glacier (AGB-4) by 1955, just a decade later the Navy left the ice biz to the realm of the sparsely-funded Coast Guard.

Since then, all nine of these breakers have been sent to the scrapper, replaced in the 1970s by just two (relatively unarmed) Polar-class icebreakers of which only one was still operational by 2010.

Now 43-years young, the country’s sole polar icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), just reached Antarctica on her annual Operation Deep Freeze resupply mission to McMurdo Station– while her crew went unpaid due to the current lapse in funding.

The voyage wasn’t pretty.

U.S. Coast Guard scuba divers work to repair a leak in the shaft seal of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star

From the Coast Guard:

During this year’s deployment, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed.

The ship also experienced a leak from the shaft that drives the ship’s propeller, which halted icebreaking operations in order to send scuba divers in the water to repair the seal around the shaft. A hyperbaric chamber on loan from the U.S. Navy aboard the ship allows Coast Guard divers to make external emergency repairs and inspections of the ship’s hull.

The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.

If a catastrophic event, such as getting stuck in the ice, were to happen to the Healy in the Arctic or to the Polar Star near Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard is left without a self-rescue capability.

Yikes.

Can you imagine being a young Coastie E-4 on that ship right now?

In Antarctica?

While your old lady (or man) sends you emails that the light bill is due and check on the 15th was for $0.00?

Politics aside, be sure, if you are able, to contribute to your local efforts to take care of USCG families in your area, and keep those deployed in your thoughts.

Semper Paratus

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