Category Archives: Iraq

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.

Three less Islands…

In PATFORSWA, the Coast Guard’s now 20-year-long mission in the Persian Gulf/Straits of Hormuz/Gulf of Oman, a trio of its longest-serving patrol boats– 110-foot Island-class WPBs– have been quietly put to pasture.

Via USCG PAO:

Yesterday three Island-class patrol boats were decommissioned in a ceremony at Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

Rear Adm. Keith Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, attended the ceremony and commemorated 102 years of combined active service by USCGC Maui, Monomoy, and Wrangell.

“For nearly two decades, these cutters and the Coast Guardsmen that crewed them have worked closely with our U.S. Naval Forces Central Command partners and served as the heart of Coast Guard operations in the Middle East,” said Smith.

Maui was originally homeported in Miami and conducted counter-narcotics and other law enforcement activities near the United States for 18 years.

Monomoy was previously homeported in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The ship helped secure New York City’s harbor immediately following the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

In 2004, Maui and Monomoy arrived in the U.S. 5th Fleet region where they have remained for the next 18 years in support of U.S. 5th Fleet maritime security operations.

Previously homeported in Portland, Maine, Wrangell conducted counter-narcotics and maritime patrol operations along the East Coast of the United States before deploying to the Middle East in 2003.

With the retirement of these three patrol boats, and the looming retirement next month of stateside sisters such as USCGC Cuttyhunk (WPB-1322), few of the 110s remain in inventory as the new and much more capable 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters (designated WPCs) are slated to replace the Island-class.

110 foot Island class cutters compared to the new 154-foot Sentinel (Webber) class FRCs

But that doesn’t mean PATFORSWA is going away. Six of the new Sentinel-class FRCs are headed there to replace the retired Islands on a hull-for-hull basis, with three already in theatre.

Coast Guard fast response cutters Glen Harris (WPC 1144), Wrangel (WPB 1332), Emlen Tunnel (WPC 1145), Maui (WPB 1304), transiting the Gulf of Oman Feb. 26

Coast Guard fast response cutters Glen Harris (WPC 1144), Wrangel (WPB 1332), Emlen Tunnel (WPC 1145), Maui (WPB 1304), transiting Gulf of Oman Feb. 26

Besides their stabilized MK 38 25mm gun and half-dozen M2 mounts, the FRCs headed to Bahrain are equipped with the CG-HALLTS system, a hailer that has laser and LRAD capabilities, as well as a special S-band Sierra Nevada Modi RPS-42 pulse doppler with full-time 360-degree coverage, and other goodies to include four Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) on the O-1 deck. Additionally, the already experienced cutter and boarding crews of PATFORSWA have to go through 5-6 weeks of Pre Deployment Training (PDT) with the service’s Special Mission Training Center at Camp Lejune.

Farewell, 4th Tanks (as well as its Active Sisters)

U.S. Marines with 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, salute during the 4th Tank Bn. deactivation ceremony on Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center San Diego, in San Diego, California, May 15, 2021. The Marines bid their final farewell to the battalion as it was deactivated in accordance with the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 modernization and capabilities-realignment efforts in order to stay prepared for the future fight against near-peer enemies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jose S. GuerreroDeLeon)

Formed 12 May 1943 and rushed into battle with their M5 Stuart tanks at Kwajalein, the 4th Tank Battalion fought its way across the Pacific in WWII. By Iwo Jima and the occupation of Japan, they had upgraded to Shermans, including some “zippo” variants. 

Marine flamethrowing Sherman tanks set fire to Japanese aircraft in Sasebo, Japan, on November 2, 1945 127-GW-137979

Transitioned to the reserves, the battalion stood back up for Korea, landing at Inchon just 53 days after it was reactivated. Then came Vietnam, Desert Storm (where it reactivated in just 42 days, and Bravo/4 knocked out 34 Iraqi tanks in just 90 seconds, in both the biggest and fastest tank battle in the United States Marine Corps history), Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom.

All that tradition is gone as the Marines “lighten up” for future wars.

 

Its active duty sister battalions, 1st, and 2nd Tanks, which were founded in 1941, were likewise deactivated last month.

3rd Tanks, which had a string of battle honors from Bouganville and Iwo Jima to Hue, Khe Sahn, and Task Force Ripper, preceded the rest, casing their colors in 1992 as part of the post-Cold War peace dividend.

Until further notice, the Marines have lost all of their heavy armor after 80 years. The end of an era. 

Happy National Book Day

Official caption:

With a loaded M2 .50-caliber machine gun close at hand, one crewman reads a book while another keeps watch off the stern as their PB Mark III patrol boat cuts through the water of the gulf. This patrol boat is among the Navy assets operating in support of efforts to provide security for US-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. Navy Photo 330-CFD-DN-ST-89-08778 by PH1 Smith, labeled 1/1/1989

U.S. Navy Photo 330-CFD-DN-ST-89-08778 by PH1 Smith, labeled 1/1/1989

Now go grab a book, you heathen.

“We won’t forget about Irregular Warfare, we promise”

The DOD last week made a big deal of putting out a 12-page summary of the “Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy.”

The IW Annex details that irregular warfare endures, even as the military pivots from two decades of counter-insurgency and nation (re)building to near-peer Great Power Competition, and that the Pentagon will keep IW skills sharp as “an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the U.S. Department of Defense.”

The paper goes on to detail that the American way of war in the past was to build COIN skills and asymmetric warfare assets when we needed it (see Seminole Wars, Plains Wars, Philippine pacification, Banana Wars, Vietnam, El Salvador/Nicaragua, Afghanistan, and Iraq), then put it aside and essentially throw away the manual when we didn’t need it on a daily basis any longer, requiring the military to start from scratch the next time. In each case, the lost muscle memory had to be regained with blood.

“In short, the IW Annex is a road map for deterrence and provides off-ramps for the U.S. in options short of kinetic warfare,” said a DOD official in firm language via a related press release.

No, really guys, we mean it this time

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Hendrick (left), Asymmetric Warfare Group Adviser, explains specifics of the blast radius of the man-portable line charge system during a training exercise just outside of Forward Operating Base Zangabad, Afghanistan, Oct. 20, 2013. (U.S Army photo by Cpl. Alex Flynn)

And in pure DOD logic, the word also surfaced last week that the Army will be disbanding both the Asymmetric Warfare Group and the Rapid Equipping Force as it transitions from counterinsurgency operations to better concentrate on “multi-domain and large-scale combat operations.”

AWG, for those following along at home, was founded in 2006 to help the Army gain an edge in low-key COIN and hearts-and-minds type operations through learning lessons that could be applied quickly to simultaneously save Joes and ghost Tangos. Similarly, REF– formed in 2002 as the Desert Storm/38th Parallel-oriented Army was faced with a new war of movement against fast-moving groups of guys armed with nothing more advanced than AK47s, IEDs, and cell phones– was designed to get urgently needed capabilities such as UAV jammers and MRAPs into the field in 180 days or less.

Insert Benny Hill chase scene, here.

Meet Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne, MOH

From the DOD & the White House: On September 11, 2020, President Donald J. Trump will award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry while deployed five years ago as an assistant team leader in Iraq as part of a Special Operations Joint Task Force in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Thomas “Patrick” Payne on Oct. 22, 2015, was part of a force given a mission to rescue over 70 Iraqi hostages being held by ISIS in a prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.

The rescue footage:

 

His story in his own words:

30 Years Ago Today: Salamandre

Here we see “le Clem,” the French Navy’s Clemenceau (R98), the service’s first domestic-built fleet carrier, with her deck full of…Army trucks and helicopters as well as a handful of Bréguet 1050 Alizé ASW aircraft.

Photo: Marine Nationale

The reason? Saddam, of course.

Commissioned in 1961 as the first of a two-ship class to replace the WWII-era British Colossus-class light carrier Arromanches (R95) [ex-HMS Colossus] and the Independence-class light carriers LaFayette (R94) [ex-USS Langley] and Bois Belleau (R96) [ex-USS Belleau Wood], the Clemenceau-class ships were roughly comparable to an Essex-sized carrier with their 869-foot flight deck.

By the early 1990s, the airwing of Clemenceau and her sister ship Foch (R99) included a mix of 40 or so F-8 Crusader fighters, Super Etendard strike aircraft, Alize sub-busters, and Dauphin helicopters.

Beautiful French Navy Vought F8 Crusaders. The Aéronavale began fielding 42 modified F8s to replace downright elderly WWII-era F4U Corsairs in 1964, going on to operate them in combat off Djibouti (against Yemeni MiGs), Lebanon, Libya, Bosnia, and Kosovo. France saw their last Crusader flight in December 1999– the final country fielding them– and to their credit has over a dozen of these aircraft preserved in museums around the country. (Photo: Marine Nationale)

A Vought F-8 Crusader lines up for landing on the French aircraft carrier Foch (R99). Date and location unknown

With their 32-knot max speed, Clemenceau and Foch could also be used as a fast “commando carrier,” transporting French Army troops or Marines and an assortment of Puma, Super Frelon, and Alouette helicopters to carry them ashore.

That’s what you kinda see in the top image.

As part of France’s early involvement in the First Gulf War, reacting to Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait, le Clem was ordered to land most of her traditional airwing (save for its Alize and Dauphins) and take on elements of the Force d’Action Rapide to include a reinforced company of the French Foreign Legion’s 1er Régiment, an anti-air detachment (11e RAMa), and a full Army heavy aviation regiment (5e R.H.C.) to include a dozen SA 330B Puma and 30 SA 341/342 Gazelle helicopters. Added to the mix were 80 assorted trucks and combat vehicles. In all, some 800 French troops were embarked.

With escort provided by the cruiser Colbert (C611) and support of the Durance-class replenishment ship Var (A608), the whole thing was put together in 72 hours from the green light and sailed from Toulon as Task Force 623 on 13 August– just 11 days after Saddam crossed the border.

Cruiser Colbert escorts Clemenceau, who is carrying 42 helicopters of the 5e RHC (Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat), during Opération Salamandre along with four Bréguet-Alizé ASW aircraft and two SA365 Dauphins of the Aéronavale. Note the big 11,000-ton cruiser’s double ramp ECAN Masurca surface-to-air missile launcher, comparable to the Mk26, on her stern. Photo: ECPAD

Clemenceau, Colbert, and Var during Opération Salamandre. Photo: ECPAD

The mission was dubbed Opération Salamandre.

Crossing into the Red Sea via the Suez, the force had a brief stopover in the French colony of Djibouti before making for the Strait of Hormuz, where Gazelles combat-loaded with HOT anti-tank missiles and 20mm cannon stood on alert while Marines with Mistrals kept an eye peeled.

Helicopters of 5e RHC (Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat) operate from Clemenceau during Salamandre. (Photo: Marine Nationale)

Ultimately, the helicopters and trucks were offloaded at Yanbu in Saudi Arabia and TF 623 remained in the Persian Gulf area until early October, handing over naval operations to the Opération Artimon task force of frigates, as the semi-armored Daguet Division was slowly being built ashore, preparing for action the next year when the Gulf War went from a Shield to a Storm.

When Daguet went into action the next February, almost half of the Division’s aircraft had been carried to the theater by le Clem.

Ultimately, Clemenceau went on to have a more lively part in a shooting war with no less than five deployments off the former Yugoslavia from 1993 to 1996, including having one of her Etendards take a SAM over Bosnia.

She would be decommissioned in 1997 and later partially stripped to provide spare parts for her sister, Foch, which was transferred to Brazil. Le Clem was scrapped in 2010. Salamandre mate Colbert followed in 2016 after spending almost two decades as a museum ship, while Var is still active.

A T-55 ‘Enigma’

Hanging out at the Bovington Tank Museum is a much-modded Russian (Soviet)-built T-55 tank that was used at one time by Poland during the Warsaw Pact days as it was upgraded to a T-55K command tank. Shipped to Iraq during Saddam’s-era, it has been converted with the addition of add-on armor up front and ballast blocks on the rear to balance it out.

Reportedly, it could survive Iranian TOW missiles and Milan strikes.

Apache Junction

Back at the hottest part of the Iran-Iraq Tanker War in 1987-89, Operation Prime Chance saw Army SOAR Little Birds and OH-58s deploying from FFGs as well as two leased Brown & Root crane barges dubbed Mobile Sea Base Hercules and Mobile Sea Base Wimbrown 7. Set-up in the Northern Persian Gulf, the latter supported eight MkIII 65-foot patrol boats and an array of Army AH-64D Longbow Apaches, Navy Seahawks for C-SAR while they were protected by Marine air defense units to pop interloping low-flying tangos.

An aerial view of the leased barge Hercules with three PB Mark III patrol boats and the tugboat Mister John H tied up alongside. The barge is part of Operation Prime Chance, supporting U.S. Navy efforts to provide security for U.S.-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf. 1 January 1989 Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Smith DNST8908773

Fast forward to 2020 and the concept is fully fleshed out some 30 years later with the 78,000-ton purposely-built expeditionary mobile base vessels of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) class.

USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. ESB 3 is able to carry at least four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Puller has a dozen weapon stations (think M2 .50 cals) to protect against small boats, and the ability to support at least four CH-53-sized helicopters and 300 mission crew.

Recently, Puller showcased Task Force Saber, an Army AH-64 unit, which caused a lot of interest from Iranian Revolutionary Guard guys last week.

Official caption: Soldiers of Task Force Saber conduct rotary-wing deck landing operations with the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Lewis B. Puller in the Persian Gulf April 15-16, 2020. Task Force Saber utilized the USS Puller as a maritime base to practice launching rotary-wing assets. (U.S. Army video by Sgt. Trevor Cullen):

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