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There are now 40 154-foot patrol craft in the USCG

The new Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) has been termed an operational “game-changer,” according to senior Coast Guard officials. Based on the Dutch Damen Stan 4708 platform with some mods for U.S. use, Louisiana’s Bollinger Shipyards won a contract for the first unit, USCGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC-1101), in 2008 and has been plowing right along ever since.

A couple weeks ago, the yard delivered the 40th FRC to the Coast Guard, not a bad job in just 12 years.

USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140), note her 25mm gun has not been installed. Photo via Bollinger. 

The newest vessel, USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140), was placed in commission, special status, on 30 July and will remain in Florida while the crew completes pre-commissioning trials and maintenance. The cutter is scheduled to arrive in Santa Rita, Guam, later in 2020, and will be the second of three planned FRCs stationed in Guam, an important upgrade to sea surveillance and patrol capabilities in America’s forward-deployed territorial bastion.

“The Fast Response Cutters are a real game-changer here in the Pacific for the Coast Guard,” said LCDR Jessica Conway, the Coast Guard 14th District’s patrol boat manager. “Already the FRCs stationed here in Hawaii are conducting longer missions over greater distances than the older patrol boats they are replacing.”

FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, a state of the art C4ISR suite, a stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat, and a combat suite that includes a remote-operated Mk38 25mm chain gun and four crew-served M2 .50 cals.

Note the 25mm gun forward. Unlike older models, it is the stabilized Mod 2 variant with a day/night electro-optical sight. The Mod 2 has shown to be 3x more likely to hit a target than the eyeball-trained and manually-slewed Mod 0/1 guns.  

While listed as having a range of ~2,500nm, FRCs have deployed on 4,400nm round-trip patrols to the Marshall Islands from Hawaii– completing two at-sea refuelings from a Coast Guard buoy tender– and have shown themselves particularly adept at expeditionary operations in devastated littorals in the aftermath of hurricanes. Further, the class has deployed to the coast of South America in joint Operations Tradewinds exercises for the past two years.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Berry staging out of San Diego headed to Oahu,  2,600-nm West on a solo trip. Not bad for a yacht-sized patrol boat

“Here in the Pacific one of our greatest challenges is distance,” said Conway. “With the FRCs boasting a larger crew size and greater endurance, they are able to complete missions both close to shore and over the horizon, aiding both the people of Guam and our partners in the region.”

In a hat tip to the fact they are so much more capable, the USCG uses the WPC hull designation, used last by the old “buck and a quarter” 125-foot cutters of the Prohibition-era with these crafts, rather than the WPB patrol boat designation of the ships they are replacing.

Most important, later in 2020, Bollinger will be delivering the first of a half-dozen FRCs to the USCG that will be home-ported in Manama, Bahrain, to replace the 1980s-vintage 110-foot Island Class Patrol Boats supporting Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the service’s largest unit outside of the United States. PATFORSWA is almost continually engaged with Iranian asymmetric forces in the Persian Gulf region.

206 Days and a Rail Manning

The Eisenhower Strike Group returned home Sunday after an epic 206 days at sea– without a port call. Yikes.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) marking her 200th day at sea last week. It is hard to show another Navy that could rack up almost seven months afloat on an all-underway replenishment cruise with no port calls. 

The accomplishment is a record for the modern Navy. The next longest period without a port call for a carrier group was back in 2002 when USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) operated for 160 days straight in support of the Post-9/11 response.

Sure, you can point out that carriers on Yankee Station regularly pulled off 8-9 month West Pac cruises during Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, but they would at least get some downtime in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Australia during that time. Ike, with nine squadrons of her embarked Carrier Air Wing 3, and the escorting AAW cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56), did not.

As noted by CSG10 commander:

Carrier Strike Group TEN left Naval Station Norfolk Jan. 17, 2020, and returned home today, Aug. 9, 2020. From the Composite Unit Training Exercise straight into deployment, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, from the Strait of Gibraltar through the Suez Canal and Bab-al-Mandeb to the Strait of Hormuz, we traversed about 60,000 nautical miles of the globe’s oceans in 206 consecutive days.

In that span of space and time, we escorted a convoy across the Atlantic Ocean in support of Operation Agile Defender to practice evading submarine forces and deliver 1.3 million square feet of combat cargo for the first time in more than five decades. In 6th Fleet, we helped foster meaningful partnerships with our allied NATO navies in multinational high-end exercises with Italy, Turkey, Greece, and France.

Our deployment to 5th Fleet was robust in the arenas of Theater Security Cooperation and Maritime Security Operations. We provided layered defense at the three chokepoints and throughout the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and Gulf of Aden.

We conducted 166 sorties and 1,135 flight hours in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel missions, and 112 sorties and 492 flight hours in support of Strait of Hormuz transits and Deliberate Presence Patrols.

St. Louis, arriving

Over the weekend, in an understated COVID-era ceremony, the latest USS St. Louis joined the fleet.

She is the 7th such vessel to carry the name and SECNAV made sure to touch on the missions of the first one, the 19th Century 24-gun sloop-of-war, rather than the two 20th Century cruisers with the same legacy. Because mission.

“Nearly 200 years after the first ship to bear the name was launched, today we commission the seventh USS St. Louis,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite. “Much like that sloop of war did in 1828, LCS-19 and her crew will protect the U.S. and our interests near and abroad. Whether conducting counter-narcotic operations in the Caribbean or working to enhance interoperability with partners and allies at sea, USS St. Louis will provide maneuverability, stability, and lethality in today’s era of Great Power Competition.”

St. Louis is the 22nd LCS to be delivered to the Navy, and the tenth of the Freedom-variant to join the fleet and is the seventh ship to bear the name. The first St. Louis, a sloop of war, was launched in 1828. It spent the majority of its service patrolling the coasts of the Americas to secure interests and trade. In addition, it served as the flagship for the West Indies Squadron working to suppress piracy in the Caribbean Sea, the Antilles, and the Gulf of Mexico region.

Of course, the most celebrated St. Louis in U.S. Navy history was past Warship Wednesday Alum “Lucky Lou,” the Brooklyn-class light cruiser that was the first to clear the Channel at Pearl Harbor and went on to earn 11 battle stars in WWII before going on to serve Brazil as the Lobster War flagship Almirante Tamandaré for another quarter-century.

Challenger 3?

Rheinmetall has taken a seemingly ordinary Challenger 2 main battle tank and, in a move that makes it look more like a German Leopard 3, given it a modified turret with frontal armor, a new, more powerful new engine and modified suspension.

Most important of all, it is a testbed for Rheinmetall’s new 130mm smoothbore main gun with an auto-loader.

Ooof.

After 30 years, Scout to hang it up

Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) sails off the coast of Southern California as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Mark C. Schultz/Released)

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) is the fourth Navy vessel to carry the name, following in the path of two Great War-era patrol gunboats– that ironically served concurrently– and a WWII minesweeper.

Laid down on 8 June 1987 at Peterson Builders in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, like her sisters she has a wooden inner hull with a fiberglass outer shell.

Commissioned in December 1990, she has spent the past three decades being ready to work in a world filled with floaty explody things.

As noted by the minesweeper’s command:

USS Scout – MCM 8 would like to take the opportunity to invite all past and current crew members and family members to celebrate the decommissioning is USS Scout via Facebook. The ceremony will take place on 19 Aug. This may be the decommissioning of USS Scout, but Pathfinders will always lead the way! 

Amtracs are no joke

For years we had a company of the 4th Amtrac Bn stationed here in Gulfport and you often saw the giant AAVP7s moving around and operating offshore. They even responded to flooded neighborhoods after Katrina.

If you have ever seen an amtrac hit the water, you instantly realize why they call these cavernous tracks, “Iron Ducks.”

Sadly, one Marine is confirmed dead as well as seven additional Marines and one Sailor are missing and presumed to have likewise perished off the coast of Southern California following the swamping of an amtrac in a training exercise.

From I MEF: 

After an extensive 40-hour search, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). I Marine Expeditionary force. and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) concluded their search and rescue operation for seven missing Marines and one Sailor, today.

All eight service members are presumed deceased. The 15th MEU and the ARG leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident.

On July 30, 15 Marines and one Sailor were participating in a routine training exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island, California, when the amphibious assault vehicle they were riding in, began to take on water and sank. Of the 16 service members, eight Marines were rescued, one died and two others are in critical condition at a local hospital.

“It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer. “The steadfast dedication of the Marines, Sailors. and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.”

Over the course of the at-sea search, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard helicopter, ships and watercraft searched more than I,000 square nautical miles.

Assisting in the search efforts were the USS John Finn. the USS Makin Island, the USS Somerset, and the USS San Diego. Eleven U.S. Navy SH-60 helicopters and multiple Navy and Manne Corps small boats were also involved. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego assisted as well

“Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with our Marines’ and Sailor’s families during this difficult time,” said Bronzi. “As we turn to recovery operations we will continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and Sailor.”

Efforts will now turn to finding and recovering the Marines and Sailor still missing. Assisting in the recovery efforts is the offshore supply vessel HOS Dominator, as well as Undersea Rescue Command, utilizing their Remotely Operated Vehicle to survey the sea floor.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated. The names of the Marines and Sailor will be released 24-hours after next of kin notification.

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper issued the following statement:

A grateful nation and the Department of Defense grieves the tragic loss of the Marines and Sailor lost in the amphibious assault vehicle accident off the coast of San Clemente Island. Our prayers and condolences are with the family and friends of these brave young men:

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas
Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California
Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California
Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California
Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon
Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas
Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon
Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California

Their service, commitment and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served. While the incident remains under investigation, I want to assure our service members and their families that we are committed to gathering all the facts, understanding exactly how this incident occurred, and preventing similar tragedies in the future.

Welcome to the flying boat gap you didn’t even know we had

Curtiss A-1, The first Navy seaplane at the Curtiss airfield, Hammondsport, NY, June 1911, with Curtiss employees and early Naval aviators. NARA #: 80-G-418895

Almost from the time of the Wright Brothers, the U.S. Navy utilized an increasingly complex series of amphibious “flying boat” aircraft. From hundreds of Curtiss C, F, and MF model flying boats acquired from 1911 through the Great War, the Navy in 1919 used the four huge NC boats to cross the Atlantic, making history.

The 1920s brought the PN flying boats while the 1930s saw the early P2Y-1 Clippers, followed by the PBY Catalina and PBY2 Coronado– with both of the latter going on to be World War II workhorses.

Then came the twilight of the U.S. Navy flying boat era with lumbering Martin PBM Mariner and P5M Marlin, which replaced the Catalina and Coronado, and the aborted Martin P6M SeaMaster, the latter a seriously capable jet-powered sea-based strategic bomber capable of dropping nuclear ordnance. With no desire to continue in the art of seaplanes and their associated tenders, the final flying boat operations of the U.S. Navy were the 1965 Market Time patrols of VP-40 in Vietnam.

USS Guavina (AGSS-362), refueling a P5M-1 Marlin flying boat off Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1955. Prior to World War II several submarines were fitted to refuel seaplanes.  

And just like that, the Navy was out of the seaplane biz.

Since then, the military use of seaplanes, once surplus USAF Hu-16 Albatrosses aged out, have been left to countries like Canada, Russia, and Japan.

However, the stirring dragon, China, is now getting very serious about a very serious flying boat, the AVIC AG600 Kunlong. The size of a 737, the AG600 had its first flight in 2017, and, while not in production yet, already has orders from the “little blue men” adjacent China Coast Guard.

Most importantly, the AG600 just had its first water takeoff last week. 

While pitched as ideal for civilian uses such as firefighting, you would have to be smooth brained to gloss over the potential of a giant seaplane with a 2,800nm range to China, a country that is increasingly looking to build its Spratly Island territory across the contested South China Sea.

As noted by Kyle Mizokami at PM:

The AG600, with a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 tons, can transport personnel and equipment to places like Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. The ability to take off and land from water will allow the PLA to keep Mischief Reef supplied even if the islet’s airfield is shut down by military action. Other military missions for the AG600 would include rescuing downed pilots at sea, convoy escort, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare.

It increasingly seems like we are in 1940 rather than in 2020.

I SPY

Raytheon announced last week that it has delivered the first AN/SPY-6(V)1 radar array to Huntington Ingalls for installation on the Navy’s future guided-missile destroyer USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG-125), the first of the Flight III Arleigh Burkes. [As a side, I met Jack in Hattiesburg several years ago, and he was an absolute gentleman.]

“SPY-6 will change how the Navy conducts surface fleet operations,” said Capt. Jason Hall, program manager for Above-Water Sensors for the US Navy’s Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems in a press release.

The first 14-foot-by-14-foot modular array was transported from Raytheon’s Radar Development Facility in Andover, Mass., to the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., company officials said. In November 2019, Raytheon received a $97.3 million contract modification for integration and maintenance of the AN/SPY-6(V) air and missile defense radar system on Navy vessels.

Kanyon: Not just a torpedo

Possibly one of the scariest weapons ever devised, the Russian 2m39 Poseidon (aka Status-6) NATO: Kanyon, a 65-foot long nuclear-powered intercontinental torpedo with an estimated warhead as large as 100 mega-tons, may or may not ever become operational. Submarine wonk HI Sutton over at Covert Shores has been covering this device for the past couple of years.

To put the strategy behind such a weapon into perspective, Dr. Mark B. Schneider, a Senior Analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy, just penned an essay at Real Clear Defense that paints a grim picture.

“Poseidon is a strategic rather than a tactical nuclear weapon. Calling it a ‘torpedo’ is also a mischaracterization,” says Schneider, pointing out that it is a semi-autonomous nuclear-powered UUV drone.

The crux:

The role of Poseidon appears to be to terrorize the U.S. and NATO into not responding to the initial Russian low-yield nuclear attack after the seizure of bordering NATO territory. Under its “escalate to de-escalate” or “escalate to win” nuclear doctrine, Russia is going to use nuclear weapons first. Deterrence and defense are necessary. A new generation of weapons is probably necessary to destroy the Poseidon. At a minimum, deterring genocidal nuclear attacks against our major port cities is a critical equity. There is no nice way of deterring genocide.

More here

It would suck to be a fish off Taiwan this time of year

The Republic of China Army, formerly the KMT Army, popularly known outside of the ROC as the Taiwanese Army, is no slouch military-wise, having some 130,000 active troops and over a million reservists. The idea is to be too hard of a nut to crack without the enemy either A) having the will to turn the place into glass, which negates the prospect of reuniting a “renegade province” with the homeland, or B) lose an equivalent amount of troops to do it conventionally.

Bolstered by 900 M60 and M48 tanks, which have been much upgraded over the years, a small force of AH-64 Apaches and 1,700 artillery pieces of 105mm and up, their kit is kinda dated but is still a whole lot to chew on if you have to take the beaches there– and remember, an invasion of an island always comes down to pushing in from the surf line unless you want to pull Crete 1941 all over again.

Taiwan M60A3TTS tanks on a beach defense drill

Thus:

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