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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.”

‘The ships that the Navy forgot’

Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Pioneer (MCM 9) observes a controlled mine detonation while conducting joint mine countermeasures exercise with the Royal Thai Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Corbin Shea/Released)

Pro Publica had this take on the Navy’s current state of minesweeper deficit with the protracted LCS mine countermeasures systems still a long ways off and the Avenger-class ships getting the short end of the readiness dollar.

It’s actually pretty interesting.

The U.S. Navy officer was eager to talk.

He’d seen his ship, one of the Navy’s fleet of 11 minesweepers, sidelined by repairs and maintenance for more than 20 months. Once the ship, based in Japan, returned to action, its crew was only able to conduct its most essential training — how to identify and defuse underwater mines — for fewer than 10 days the entire next year. During those training missions, the officer said, the crew found it hard to trust the ship’s faulty navigation system: It ran on Windows 2000.

The officer, hoping that by speaking out he could provoke needed change, wound up delaying the scheduled interview. He apologized. His ship had broken down again.

“We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot,” he said of the minesweepers.

More here. 

Secret Service Apparently Ditching Sig

Secret Service agents walk on both sides of President Theodore Roosevelt’s carriage during his inauguration on March 4, 1905– the first such use of the USSS for such a detail. Vice President under McKinley, Teddy moved into the White House after the former Union Army vet was shot during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. TR himself would later survive a 1912 assassination attempt in Milwaukee by the skin of his teeth– or more appropriately, the thickness of a speech.

Founded in 1865 to fight counterfeiters as part of the Treasury Department, the U.S. Secret Service today has something like 7,000 agents, uniformed division personnel and support staff. For the first 130~ years of their existence, they carried wheel guns, alternating between Colts and Smiths over the decades. In the 1990s, they went semi-auto, adopting first the Sig Sauer P228 in 9mm and then the P229R in spicy .357SIG.

Now, it seems they have elected to go Glock, piggybacking on CBP’s recent huge $85 million contract.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Meet the Marshal Services’ new operator pistol

I’ve spent the past month getting the skinny on these guns:

“Who wouldn’t want a pistol that holds 21 rounds and can shoot super-fast, flat and accurately when you’re on duty?” (Photo: STI)

Now don’t get me wrong, these beautiful STI 2011s are not meant for the rank-and-file deputy marshal, but rather for the service’s secretive Special Operations Group, who has been using Springfield Armory 1911 rail guns for more than a decade.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Just hailing a ride on a Narco Sub

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Coast Guard Photos)

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

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