Category Archives: modern military conflict

The More Things Change, Forward Mount Edition

The guns may have shrunk, along with the ships, but the task remains.

Bluejackets standing atop turret No. 1 to clean the 12-inch/50 caliber Mark 7 guns in turret No. 2 aboard the brand new dreadnought battleship USS Wyoming (BB-32), circa 1913, likely during winter fleet gunnery practice off Puerto Rico. Wyoming carried six such Mark 9 twin turrets on her centerline and, as with coaling, was surely a massive undertaking to maintain her extensive fire-belching batteries.

Official caption: Sailors assigned to the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11), and the “Sea Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, Detachment 3, conduct maintenance on the 57mm MK 110 gun while the ship is in port Ponce, Puerto Rico for a brief stop for fuel and provisions, May 12, 2021. Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter-illicit drug trafficking missions in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marianne Guemo/Released)

Ford Gets a Shock

The world’s largest warship and the lead ship of her class, the supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has been getting rocked by underwater explosions in Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean. It makes for some impressive images.

These provided by Warship 78’s social media account by MCSN Jackson Adkins, MC3 Riley McDowell, MC3 Zachary Melvin, taken 18 June.

Taking place some 100 miles off the Florida coast just before 4 p.m. Friday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey the blast hit the scales there as a 3.9 magnitude earthquake.

Laid down in 2009 after four years of pre-production, Ford commissioned 22 July 2017, two months after she was delivered, and has been undergoing trials, tests, and refits for the past four years.

The Navy hopes she will be ready to deploy in 2023.

Cracking the Army’s Budget Book on SmallArms

The Army’s recently announced budget request for the fiscal year 2022 includes at least $114 million for new rifles, handguns, and the next generation of small arms. 

While the overall FY2022 Defense Department Budget is $112 billion, most of the non-operational dollars are for high-level R&D and big-ticket items like the F-35 fighter. The Army’s budget book for weapons and tracked combat vehicles meanwhile has a low nine-figure ask when it comes to individual small arms. 

The bulk ($97 million) is to go to the Next Generation Squad Weapons, with much of the balance to acquire new Barrett-made Precision Sniper Rifles, and a few crumbs for M4s, M17s, and the like.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Bollinger Looks to Get a Slice of that Sweet, Sweet OPC Pie

With as many as 25 of the Coast Guard’s 4,500-ton/360-foot new Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter/Maritime Security Cutter, Medium set to be built (don’t be surprised if the number of hulls increases) a big name in the USCG build game is trying to get in on the action.

New Orleans-based Bollinger and the Coasties go way back, delivering 170 vessels in the last three decades, all of which have had a long and (mostly) successful history. This includes the 110-foot Island-class (49 delivered), the 87-foot Marine Protector class (77 delivered), and now the 158-foot Sentinel-class (44 of 64 delivered to date). The yard also built the Navy’s Cyclone-class patrol ships (14 delivered) in the 1990s and is building the 5,100-ton/263-foot Navajo-class rescue and salvage ships (7 building) as well.

Now, the yard wants to step up to the larger cutters and has submitted a package to get in on the second flight of 11 OPCs, vying against Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City, a largely commercial tug/supply boat company, that is building at least the first two of the initial flight of 11. The ships are projected for a rapid build-out with the Coast Guard expecting the first 22 by the early-to-mid 2030s, which sounds far away but really isn’t.

They will be replacing the 30-to-50-year-old 1,300-ton, 210-foot Reliance-class and 1,800-ton, 270-foot Famous-class medium-endurance cutters, which, along with the circa 1967 former Navy Edenton-class rescue ship which has been serving as USCGC Alex Haley (WMEC-39), amount to some 30 hulls.

“Bollinger is the right shipyard at the right time to build the Offshore Patrol Cutter program for the U.S. Coast Guard,” said Ben Bordelon, Bollinger President and CEO. “Our long history building for the Coast Guard is unparalleled and has shown time and time again that Bollinger can successfully deliver the highest quality vessels on an aggressive production schedule.”

Bollinger was a contender in every step of the U.S. Coast Guard’s OPC acquisition process, including the execution of the Stage 1 Preliminary and Contract Design, where the company was included in the final three shipyards, as well as execution of the OPC Stage 2 Industry Study.

The OPCs are essentially a scaled-down light frigate, with lots of commonality sensor and weapon-wise with the Navy’s LCS and planned new Constellation-class FFGs, as well as the Coast Guard’s larger National Security program cutters.

This includes the BAE Mk110 (Bofors’ 57Mk3, which uses an interesting Mk295 3P fuzed ammo), an SPS-77 (Saab Sea Giraffe) 3D radar with gun cueing so that the 57mm can be used for AAA/anti-missile defense, a stabilized Mk 38 25mm gun (that can be upgraded to a 30mm or 50mm barrel on the same mount), two stabilized .50 cals and four good old M2s. Northrop Grumman was just named the systems integrator for C5ISR and control systems. They can interface with the fleet via Link 22 and have IFF/TACAN systems.

There is also weight and space available for anti-ship missiles and a CIWS and they can carry an HH-60-sized helicopter which means, in a pinch, they can support an Oceanhawk/Seahawk and a UAV at the same time due to a large hangar. 

The Sea Giraffe AMB has proved successful on the Independence-class LCS (the variant that seems to be having fewer issues) as well as the Swedish Visby class corvettes, Canadian Halifax-class frigates, Singapore’s Victory-class corvettes et. al. while the Bofors gun is used both far and wide overseas and the Navy is looking to up the lethality of that program as well since they are installing it on the Constellations.

Pascagoula, Miss. (Feb. 11, 2008)- The MK 110 57mm gun was fired off the bow of the Coast Guard’s first National Security Cutter, Bertholf, on Feb. 11 during sea trials (Northrop Grumman photo)

The 57mm’s 13-pound 3P Mk 295 Mod 0 cartridge projectile section delivers over 8,000 pre-formed tungsten fragments in reaction to 420 grams of PBX-explosive. It has a range of “at least” nine nm. (BAE)

The OPC also has lots of soft kills such as a newer version of the Slick 32, Nulka, and other countermeasures.

The program should prove interesting and could contrast well against the LCS debacle.

Army Publically Reaffirms Their Love of the M240

The adage for the past couple of decades among Joes (skip this if you are sensitive as it may be NSFW) is that the 5056 NATO-caliber M249 SAW is like a high-maintenance first wife: you have to pamper and court her and maybe, just maybe, she will work out. The 7.62 NATO-chambered M240 on the other hand, is just a dirty whore: no matter what you do to her, she’ll keep on working through the night, rain or shine.

Thus endith the addage.

There may be some smoke to that, as, in my experience, I have never seen any but a factory fresh and over-lubed SAW run a full 200-round belt without a stoppage under field conditions whereas I have also seen some downright grungy and funky M240s chew through belt after belt. This may be why the Marines have largely dumped the SAW for the M27 IAR and the Army is looking to move on to the NGSW-AR to put the M249 in the rearview.

As further reinforcement to the M240 not going anywhere any time soon, Picatinny Arsenal just issued a five-year $92 million contract for more deliveries of that beautiful FN-made GPMG.

I got to see how the magic happens on FN’s 240 lines back in 2019, and these things are built like a tank.

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. 

The Navy’s Other Small Boats

With the promised retirement of the dozen low-mileage Mark VI patrol boats by the Navy, it should be noted that service is not totally absent of small boats, still having the 33-foot SOC-R riverine boats of SBT-22 and the assorted 82-foot Mark V boats in the SWCC teams.

Then there are other, more numerous, assets in the Maritime Expeditionary Security Force.

Via a good article at Sea Power:

180918-N-EH436-081 PORT OF DJIBOUTI, Djibouti (September 18, 2018) Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Petty Officer William Woodley, assigned to Task Group 68.6 (TG-68.6), stands watch as a crewman onboard a 34ft SeaArk patrol boat upon completion of a mission with the USNS Alan Shepard, Sept. 18, 2018. TG-68.6 is forward-deployed to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations and conducts joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Quartermaster 2nd Class Ashley Taylor)

In addition to the Mark VI PBs, the MESF operates 164 patrol craft. These include 117 SeaArk 34-foot Dauntless-class patrol boats and 17 SAFE Boats 25-foot Oswald-class patrol boats. The riverine assault craft, riverine command boats, and riverine patrol boats all have been retired and stored. The single Coastal Command Boat, a smaller predecessor to the Mark VI that was deployed to the 5th Fleet, was transferred to a test role in 2018.

Further, the Oswalds are being replaced by a series of 120 40-foot PB(X) boats over the next 10 years to replace the 34-foot and 25-foot PBs.

The Navy also has ordered 24 Force Protection-Medium (FP-M) patrol boats from Lake Assault Boats LLC, which was awarded a contract for up to 119 FP-Ms in February 2020. The 33-foot-long aluminum V-hull boats will be used for harbor and waterway patrols, interrogation of other waterborne assets, and escorting large vessels in and out of ports in various weather and water conditions. The first was scheduled for delivery this spring.

Second Offshore Cutter on the Way, 23 to go!

Late last month, Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. (ESG) hosted the keel authentication ceremony for the U.S. Coast Guard’s future Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), USCGC Chase (WMSM 916), at their Nelson Street facility in Panama City.

USCGC Chase is the second OPC laid down, following on class leader USCGC Argus (WMSM 915), is part of a ~25 ship sloop/light frigate/corvette/offshore patrol vessel group meant to replace the over half-decade old 210-foot Reliance and 30-year-old 270-foot Bear-class medium endurance cutters.

OPC Characteristics:
•Length: 360 feet
•Beam: 54 feet
•Draft: 17 feet
•Sustained Speed: 22 Plus knots
•Range: 8500 Plus nautical miles
•Endurance: 60 Days

The main armament is a Mk 110 57mm gun forward with a MK 38 25mm gun over the stern HH60-sized hangar, and four M2 .50 cal mounts. 

I say replace the Mk38 with a C-RAM, shoehorn a towed sonar, ASW tubes, an 8-pack Mk41 VLS crammed with Sea Sparrows, and eight NSSMs aboard and call it a day.

But no one listens to me…

Anyway, 

The first flight of 11 OPCs will include the ActiveArgusDiligence, and Vigilant, named for four cutters of the first fleet [of Alexander Hamilton’s 10 revenue service cutters in 1791] and subsequent cutters with the same names.

OPC Pickering will pay homage to the distinguished combat record of the Quasi-War cutter Pickering.

OPC Ingham will carry the name of a 327-foot “Treasury”-class cutter that served with distinction in World War II. [See Warship Wednesday entry on Ingham here]

OPC Icarus will honor the fearless 165-foot cutter that sank one of the first Nazi U-boats after U.S. entry into World War II.

OPCs Chase and Rush will bear two cutter names long associated with the Coast Guard, most recently with two high-endurance cutters of the 378-foot Hamilton-class [who put in time on the gun line off Vietnam.]

OPCs Alert and Reliance will bear the names of two famed workhorses of the medium-endurance cutter fleet.

Could the Army Ditch Brass for Plastic?

The hybrid polymer-cased cartridge, developed by Texas-based True Velocity as part of the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program, is compatible with legacy firearms as well.

The 6.8mm TVCM composite case design, coupled with the Army’s 6.8mm (.277-caliber) common cartridge projectile, was originally developed and optimized for use in the NGSW-Rifle and NGSW-Automatic Rifle submissions submitted to that military program by General Dynamics-OTS. It performs better ballistically than 7.62 NATO and weighs 30 percent less.

However, using what True Velocity characterizes as a “switch barrel” capability, they have demonstrated it can work with much of the Army’s currently fielded small arms including the M240B belt-fed machine gun, the M110 semi-automatic sniper system, and the M134 minigun.

Which could mean that, even if NGSW tanks, there could be a revolutionary advance in the ammo used by U.S. troops in the near future.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Sweden Exits Afghanistan

One of Europe’s great modern neutrals, Sweden has managed to sit out open combat in most forms since 1814. I say most forms because, since the 1950s when a 200-bed field hospital was dispatched to help the UN forces in the Korean War, they have been very active in a myriad of overseas peacekeeping, “police actions,” and nation-building.

Now moving from the list of active missions to former deployments is Stockholm’s activities in Afghanistan.

Beginning with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2001 and continuing with NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, the Swedes have been active in the war-torn country, reaching a high watermark in March 2006 when they took operational command in Mazar-e-Sharif, with responsibility for security in four provinces in northern Afghanistan, and had a battalion-sized force on the ground.

Since then, the primary Swedish base, Camp Northern Lights, was transferred to the Afghan government in 2014 when the Swedish contingent dropped down to about 50 advisors to the Afghan security forces. Even this final chapter came to a close as the Swedish flag was lowered in Kabul last month and a contingent of the Gota Engineers arrived back home on 25 May, escorted by a pair of JAS 39 Gripens.

“On Saturday 15 May, a historic flag ceremony was held in Kabul, in the presence of the head of the multi-national force, Resolute Support Mission, US General Scott Miller, and large parts of his staff. The Swedish flag was lowered at the mission headquarters, following nearly 20 years’ presence in Afghanistan.” Via Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters.

Over 10,000 Swedish personnel cycled through Afghanistan in the past two decades and the country invested more than SEK 7 billion in bilateral aid and humanitarian support. Five Swedish soldiers were killed in action and 24 were injured.

The Swedes aren’t out of the sandbox entirely, though, as a 70-strong force remains in Iraq as advisors to local forces there. In addition, smaller teams are spread out in 20 countries from the Korean DMZ to Mali, Yemen and in the Western Sahara.

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