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The more things change….

Below we have an image taken earlier this month of Sailors assigned to the “Knighthawks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136 conduct maintenance on an F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to the “Fighting Checkmates” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 211, in the hangar bay aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).

180202-N-NQ487-019 (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kaysee Lohmann/Released)

And here we have is “Hangar Deck of Carrier” painted first hand by officer-artist LT. William F. Draper, USNR, while off Palau in 1944, showing that, though 74 years have passed between the two, and everything from the aircraft and uniform of the day to the artist’s medium has changed, some things have endured.

NHHC Accession #: 88-189-EB

Frigates, forward

So the Navy has handed out some cash ($15 million each) for five different frigate designs to actually replace the FFG7s, the FFG(X) Guided Missile Frigate concept.

They went to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (for a Spanish design F100 frigate, which the Aussies are using as HMAS Hobart), Fincantieri Marine’s Fregata Europea Multi-Missione (FREMM) frigate, Huntington Ingalls (for a grey hull frigate based on the Legend-class National Security Cutter they have been making for the Coast Guard), Austal USA (for an up-gunned LCS), and Lockheed Martin (see Austal).

Lockheed’s FFGX, another upgunned LCS variant

Italian FREMM Carlo Bergamini (F590), a score of which may be built/are building for Italy, France, Morocco, and Egypt via Wiki

Austal’s FFGX, a greatly modified version of their current LCS complete with VLS and more sensors

Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Hobart enters Jervis Bay as part of her Mariner Skills Evaluation period (Photo by Mr. Pup Elliott via RAN)

Ingalls Shipbuilding Sea Control Frigate based on National security cutter

Out of all of them, I think the Ingalls pumped-up Coast Guard cutter is the most likely as its the most mature with the least issues, but the F100 and FREMM are very nice (though suffer from “not made here” origins).

Meanwhile, in other ship news, Ingalls just landed a $1.43 billion, fixed-price incentive contract for the detail design and construction of LPD 29, the 13th San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship. Ingalls has built and delivered all 11 San Antonios since 2000, a group of massive 25,000-ton 684-foot gators capable of toting up to 800 Marines along with a few helicopters/MV-22s and two LCAC landing craft to put them ashore. The 11th of the class, Portland (LPD 27), will be commissioned on April 21 in Portland, Oregon. The 12th, Fort Lauderdale, is under construction and is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2020. Preliminary work has begun on LPD 29, and the start of fabrication will take place later this year.

Rendering of LPD 29, the 13th San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, note 30mm Bushmaster gun forward

Tight fit

The Brits love CH-47s (“wocca-wocca” in Tommie parlance) for expeditionary operations, and it is well-remembered that a single aircraft proved decisive in the Falklands in 1982.

With their new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth lacking her F-35B air wing for a while, they can at least try fitting some of the huge Chinooks aboard– and they did!

From the RN Navy News:

For the first time ever a giant RAF Chinook helicopter has been stowed in the hangar of a British aircraft carrier.

With the nose protruding over the edge of one of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s two mighty aircraft lifts, the 99ft-long helicopter from RAF 7 Squadron was moved from the flight to the hangar deck.

So large are the lifts and hangar spaces on the new Portsmouth-based warship that there’s no need even to fold the rotors.

There ZH902 – a special trials variant of the Chinook – was joined by a second wocca-wocca, and two Merlins, all from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC) at MOD Boscombe Down, and a couple of Merlin Mk2s from 820 Naval Air Squadron.

All six helicopters are onboard Queen Elizabeth for trials, finding out what the operating parameters are of the airframes flying from the carrier at sea.

They were transferred to the hangar in advance of rough weather as the 65,000-tonne warship – the largest vessel ever built for the Royal Navy – made her way towards Gibraltar, keeping the helicopters out of harm’s way of the elements.

The painstaking process to bring the Chinooks in for the very first time took almost two hours, with the nosecone hanging precariously over the aircraft lift (powerful enough to raise or lower two F-35B Lightning II jets or half the 700-strong ship’s company). With practice it will take a fraction of that time.

“Even though HMS Queen Elizabeth is the biggest ship the Royal Navy has operated, she still moves around in the seas especially with the swell and winds in the infamous Bay of Biscay,” explained Cdr David Scopes, head of the carrier’s air engineering department.

HMS Queen Elizabeth passes the iconic Rock of Gibraltar as she makes her debut at the Rock. Note the CH-47s

Of Stechkins and bailout guns

In 2015, Russian state media detailed that aircrew operating in Syria were carrying AK pattern rifles, and Stechkin APS machine pistols with several 20-round magazines to use should they have to eject.

Well it looks like one got a bit of use last week when the pilot of a shot down Russian Aerospace Force Su-25SM attack aircraft, when cornered by insurgents reportedly resorted to his personal weapons and was not taken alive.

(Photo: CIT)

Among the items reportedly recovered from the downed pilot was a 9x18mm Stechkin APS pistol with three partially loaded mags, one of which appears empty.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Some Mk VI love, or, how the Navy is relearning mosquito operations yet again

Above is an interesting look at the inner workings of a MK VI patrol boat assigned to Coastal Riverine Group (CRG) 1 Detachment Guam, part of Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2.

The U.S. Navy Mark VI patrol boat is a very well-armed successor to classic PT boats of WWII (sans torpedoes), Nasty boats of Vietnam, and Cold War-era PB Mk IIIs. The Mk IIIs, a heavily armed 65-foot light gunboat, was replaced by the Mk V SOC (Special Operations Craft), a somewhat lighter armed 82-foot go fast and the 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol ships.

Now the Navy coughed up the idea for the Mk VI back in 2012, and plan on obtaining as many as 48 of these boats and are deployed in two separate strategic areas of operation: Commander, Task Force (CTF) 56 in Bahrain and CTF 75 in Guam.

At $6-million a pop, they are twice as expensive as USCG 87-foot WPBs and with much shorter legs, but they have huge teeth. Notice the 25mm MK38 Mod 2 forward and aft, the M2 RWS mount atop the wheelhouse, and the four crew-served mounts amidships and aft for Dillion mini-guns, M240Gs, MK19 grenade launchers, or other party favors. Of course, these would be toast in a defended environment like the China Sea but are gold for choke points like the Persian Gulf, anti-pirate ops, littoral warfare against asymmetric threats etc.

They also provide a persistent capability to patrol shallow littoral areas for the purpose of force protection for U.S. and coalition forces, as well as safeguarding critical infrastructure.

You know, classic small craft warfare dating back to to the Greeks.

Operation Deep Freeze: Making it by with tape and bubble gum for another year

An Emperor penguin poses for a photo in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018

The country’s only heavy polar icebreaker has pulled it off again..despite the flooding, engine failure, you know, the regular.

The 42-year-old 399-foot USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) last week finished cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the frozen continent to resupply McMurdo Station at the tip of Ross Island, the epicenter of the U.S. Antarctic Program (pop. 1200).

The trip was not without drama for the elderly cutter.

From the USCG:

“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects, it makes the hard work worth it.”

On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.

Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programming issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine.

“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.”

The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant, and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.

It looks like ONR is picking up Sea Hunter

I give you, DARPA’s robot subchaser, Sea Hunter, testbed of the ACTUV program, which is now part of ONR.

From DARPA:

DARPA has successfully completed its Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program and has officially transferred the technology demonstration vessel, christened Sea Hunter, to the Office of Naval Research (ONR). ONR will continue developing the revolutionary prototype vehicle—the first of what could ultimately become an entirely new class of ocean-going vessel able to traverse thousands of kilometers over the open seas for month at a time, without a single crew member aboard—as the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV).

The handover marks the culmination of three years of collaboration between DARPA and ONR that started in September 2014. An April 2016 christening ceremony marked the vessel’s formal transition from a DARPA-led design and construction project to a new stage of open-water testing conducted jointly with ONR. That same month, the vessel moved to San Diego, Calif., for open-water testing.

ONR plans to continue the aggressive schedule of at-sea tests to further develop ACTUV/MDUSV technologies, including automation of payload and sensor data processing, rapid development of new mission-specific autonomous behaviors, and exploring coordination of autonomous activities among multiple USVs. Pending the results of those tests, the MDUSV program could transition to U.S. Navy operations by 2018.

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