Category Archives: modern military conflict

No longer Fearless

Here we see the Project 956 (Sovremenny-class) destroyer Bezboyaznennyy (Fearless) arriving at the breakers to be turned into shveynyye igly, or sewing needles in the Russian naval parlance.

Laid down 8 January 1987 at built by Severnaya Verf 190 St. Petersburg, Bezboyaznennyy served with the Soviet/Russian Pacific Fleet from 1990 until 2002 when she was decommissioned. It had been thought that she would be refurbished and returned to service, after all, she had only served on active duty for about a decade, but it looks like she is in very poor shape indeed, and that will not be the case.

A big, almost cruiser-sized tin can, the 8,500-ton Sovremennys were Moscow’s answer to the Spruance-class with the bonus of toting big carrier-killing SS-N-22 Sunburn AShMs.

Some 21 were completed.

The Russians still have at least six Sovremennys on active service, one (Bespokoynyy) as a floating museum in St. Petersberg, and two others– Nastoychivyy and Burnyy— formerly in mothballs, being refitted to rejoin the fleet.

The Chinese also have four variants on their own.

Hawk sighting

A top-secret product of the Lockheed Skunk Works, the F-117 Nighthawk, better known as the original “stealth fighter,” first flew in 1981. After gaining IOC in 1988, they became public knowledge during the Gulf War after they helped take down some of the key strategic nodes of Saddam’s air defense and C4I network.

Officially retired in April 2008, just 59 production models were delivered. Of those, one, #82-0806 “Something Wicked”, was lost to Yugoslav SAMs over the Balkans in 1998, just one was scrapped, leaving the other 57ish Nighthawks (most of those on public display are early YF-117A “Scorpion” prototypes) to be put in what the Air Force described as “Type 1000” climate-controlled hangar storage.

Last year, 82-0803 “Unexpected Guest” went on permanent display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

However, at least two still have their wings attached and are in flyable condition. Withness this footage of two F-117As leaving Miramar MCAS last week:

215 and a coat of paint

The fifth Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer completed (more than 68 are with the fleet today, can you believe that?), USS Stout (DDG-55) rolled out of Pascagoula for the first time in 1994.

Now in her 26th year, the “Bold Knight” has been on a COVID-extended quest of sorts overseas, completing a nearly seven-month deployment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations as part of the Nimitz and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike) Carrier Strike Groups with detours to serve in TF50 and TF51/5.

Without hitting a port call, relying on VERTREPS and RAS to keep up her never-ending voyage. Stout conducted two port visits in Rota, Spain, bookending a record-breaking 215 days at sea.

Stout even chalked up the first-ever “Mid-Deployment Voyage Repair period at sea,” which is something that could prove a lesson if the fleet is pressed on unending West Pac cruises in a future crisis.

She just returned to Naval Station Norfolk on 11 October, marking the end of a nine-month deployment across U.S. 2nd, 5th, and 6th Fleet areas of operation. She had left home in mid-January and has covered 60,000 miles since then. For reference, the distance around the Earth at the Equator, its greatest circumference, is 24,901 miles.

And, for sure, she looked rough when she pulled into her homeport.

This photo has been shared worldwide, showing honest rust and bust, but she could doubtless still fight if she had to

Which of course drew quick attention from Big Navy.

As noted by RADM Brad Cooper on this image posted yesterday:

Last week, USS STOUT (DDG 55) returned home after the longest consecutive period at sea in the history of the modern Navy. During this pandemic, we ask a lot of our Sailors and our families.

It’s not business as usual for any of us, but the amazing young Americans on STOUT stepped up and exceeded our every expectation. STOUT Sailors are Tough, Resilient, Self-Sufficient and Ready.

Picture taken this evening. Ship looks amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of every Sailor on this ship.

Sure, the rust is covered up, but the bluejackets who were away from home for nine months without a real reason other than “the Coof” surely deserved better.

Have you seen what they are doing with Reapers lately?

No, not the guys in black shrouds that go around picking up souls, I’m talking about the very real drone series from General Atomics. Introduced in 2007 as a sort of super-sized version of the Predator, variations of the series have clocked six million flight hours and completed 430,495 total missions as of late 2019 while flying 11 percent of total Air Force flying hours, at only 2.6 percent of the USAF’s total flying hour cost– and maintaining a 90 percent availability rate.

The Air Force has quietly pulled off a couple of key mission enhancements in the past couple of months when it comes to Reaper.

In September, a Creech AFB-operated MQ-9 successfully went air-to-air, using an AIM-9X Block 2 Sidewinder missile against a target BQM-167 drone that was simulating an incoming cruise missile.

An MQ-9 Reaper, assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the flight line, Sept. 3, 2020, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This month, they doubled the number of Hellfires that could be mission-carried by a Reaper, growing from four to eight.

A 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron MQ-9A Reaper carrying eight Hellfire missiles sits on the ramp at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 10, 2020. This was the first flight test of the MQ-9 carrying this munition load. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This new capability is part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409, a software upgrade set to field by the end of calendar year 2020. Previous to this software, the MQ-9 was limited to four AGM-114s across two stations. The new software allows flexibility to load the Hellfire on stations that previously were reserved for 500-pound class bombs or fuel tanks.

“The hardware/launcher is the same that we use on the outboard stations,” said Master Sgt. Melvin French, test system configuration manager. “Aside from the extra hardware required to be on hand, no other changes are required to support this new capability and added lethality. The Reaper retains its flexibility to fly 500-pound bombs on any of these stations, instead of the AGM‑114s, when mission requirements dictate.”

Reaper, with about 200 airframes in USAF service, also has a maritime variant that readers of this page should find very interesting– the MQ-9B SeaGuardian which can be utilized for mine countermeasures, ASW, SAR, and general sea patrol with a 25 hour all-weather loiter time that is cheaper and less crew-intensive than a manned aircraft and could really free up a limited number of P-8s, P-3s, and HC-130Js for more dynamic taskings.

SeaGuardian

The SeaGuardian variants can carry a 360-degree patrol radar and two 10-tube sonobuoy pods, while still being able to clock in with Hellfires and 500-pound bombs if needed. If you told me they could find a way to mount an anti-ship missile and some Mk. 50 torps, perhaps on a paired aircraft operating in teams, I wouldn’t doubt it.

SeaGuardian is not science fiction. Last month the platform concluded a set of maritime test flights over the sea-lanes off the coast of Southern California and last week kicked off a series of validation flights on Oct. 15 for the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. 

Love Boat shows teeth

Sigh…

There is really no way to sugar coat it, the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) has been a pear-shaped embarrassment in terms of naval acquisition, making the LCS and Ford programs look squared away by comparison.

Awarded in 2008, DDG-1000 took eight years to complete, which is kinda shocking for a “destroyer” but of course isn’t when you keep in mind it is actually 14,800-tons, pushing into the size envelope of a WWII-era Baltimore-class heavy cruiser, making them the largest non-carrier surface asset constructed for the Navy since the 15,500-ton nuclear-powered USS Long Beach (CGN-9) commissioned in 1961.

The Zumwalts were to showcase two new weapons platforms, namely the 155 mm Advanced Gun System– which likely will never be operational in practice– and the MK 57 VLS, which uses four-cell missile packs spread along the peripheral edges of the vessel instead of the more traditional 8-cell VLS modules bunched fore and aft.

Mk-57 Peripheral Vertical Launching System (VLS), for now, unique to the Zumwalt-class destroyers

At least it looks like the MK 57 is (almost) up and running, with a test launch of an SM-2 at Point Mugu, on 13 October– notably just 72 hours short of the $4.4B Zumwalt’s 4th commissioning anniversary.

“Today’s successful firing event is a critical milestone in the maturation of this incredible ship class and represents the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work and partnership of Zumwalt’s talented crew and the engineers, designers, and programmers helping us to bring her capabilities to the Fleet,” said Capt. Gary Cave, Zumwalt’s commanding officer. “It is a day we’ve been looking forward to and demonstrates the strides we are taking to add combat capability to our surface force.”

Happy Birthday, Alpini

With bragging rights that self-credit them as the oldest continually-formed Alpine mountain infantry in the world, Italy’s Alpini date back to 15 October 1872, when 15 companies were formed to a concept developed by Captain Giuseppe Perrucchetti, trained and equipped to fight successfully in the most inhospitable climates along frozen peaks and rocky crags.

Italian Alpini at his post on the front with Austria, 1916. IWM Q 65104

Italian Alpini climbing Fiat–Revelli Modello 1914 machine gun in the Dolomites during the First World War

Italian Alpini on parade in the Baltic during NATO operations, 2019. 

Since then, the “Black Feathers” have been an elite force, tapped by Italy for much overseas use from the Boxer Rebellion to the more recent wars in Afghanistan. They fought the Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger and German Alpenkorps in the Great War as well as both with and against the German Gebirgsjäger, French Chasseurs Alpins, and U.S. 10th Mountain in WWII.

These days, the Alpini form two light brigades– Julia and Taurinense– as well as a separate Ranger-style airborne unit, 4° Reggimento Alpini Paracadutisti. Their motto is Di Qui Non Si Passa! (“Nobody passes here!”)

Fed Ex’ing a PBRON

During the late 19th Century and early 20th, attaching a flotilla of small torpedo boats to repurposed old warship such as a monitor– ideal for their low freeboard– was the standard operating procedure. The small boats didn’t have luxurious accommodation and messing facilities while at the same time they had short legs and could only carry so much ordnance. Being a cub to a mama bear was able to fix those shortcomings to a degree.

Fast forward to WWII, and you saw the same thing with PT-Boat squadrons.

3 US Navy PT-boats Aleutians in June 1943 eaplane tender GILLIS AVD12 PBY Catalina Higgins boats Mk 19 torpedo tubes.

Official USN Photographs (National Archives) 80-G-K-9454 (Color).

In Vietnam, the Brown Water Navy often supped in the gallies of LSTs detailed to the task.

USS Garrett County (LST 786) in the Co Chien River, June 1968, with PBRs alongside and HAL-3 Seawolf Hueys aboard. Note the –manned –40mm Bofors on deck. U.S. Navy Photo K-51442

Today, we have the Expeditionary Transfer Docks (ESD), such as USS Montford Point, ready to serve as forward-deployed floating seabases for small craft, special warfare assets, and light aviation.

There are also other ideas on the table, thus:

PHILIPPINE SEA (Oct. 4, 2020) A Mark VI patrol boat assigned to Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron (MSRON) 3 prepares to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Manuel A. Serrano)

USS Comstock (LSD-45) is a 16,000-ton Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship capable of holding 5 LCACs or 21 LCMs in her dock while carrying around ~400 Marines of a MEU as part of an amphibious ready group. Currently, she is underway after loading Mark VI patrol boats and expeditionary mine countermeasure (ExMCM) elements in Guam for a security patrol in the Philippine Sea as part of the 7th Fleet.

“This level of integration of Mark VI patrol boats with surface Navy assets has never been accomplished before,” said Lt. Andy Bergstrom, Alpha Company Commander. “The Mark VI patrol boat provides a presence capability in the littorals beyond sheltered bays and harbors with additional mission capabilities including high-value asset escort, visit, board, search and seizure support, and theater security cooperation.”

The Mark VI, or Wright-class patrol boats are 85-foot vessels with a 10 man crew and a pretty decent armament for their size to include a pair of stabilized MK 38 25mm chain guns and six weapon stations.

SANTA RITA, Guam (May 8, 2019) Three Mark VI patrol boats attached to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2, maneuver in formation during a training evolution near Apra Harbor. CRS-2, assigned to Coastal Riverine Group 1, Det. Guam is capable of conducting maritime security operations across the full spectrum of naval, joint, and combined operations.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey Adams)

Sure, they would be toast against an anti-ship missile, but they are meant more for counter-insurgency, anti-piracy, and coastal/riverine control, making them ideal for special operations platforms and recovering/supporting small UAVs/USVs (they have operated RQ-11 Ravens in the past).

Further, the Mark VI design is, as shown above, well-deck friendly, with as many as 8 able to be carried in an LSD-41-class vessel.

The above graphic shows how 4 MKVI patrol boats can be transported inside the well deck of either an LHD-1, LPD-17, or LSD-49 class amphibious warfare vessels. Even the older LPD-4 types can carry a pair of the super swifts. The huge LCAC-designed well-deck of the LSD-41 type landing docks can carry an entire expeditionary squadron of 8 MkVI boats inside her hull. Couple this with berthing for brown water sailors, flight deck spots for SH/MH60 helicopters, and UAVs and you see how a group of MKVIs can be UPS’d to a contested strip of coastline.

Fish don’t vote

Bushnell American Turtle submarine, 1777 (LOC LC-USZ62-110384)

American submarines, from the very start, were named after aquatic/marine animals. For instance, David Bushnell’s Turtle of Revolutionary War fame, the curious Alligator, and Intelligent Whale of the Civil War, it could be argued, had such names.

Sure, there were outliers named after their inventors (CSS Hunley, USS Holland) as well as early vessels such as USS Adder, USS Viper, USS Tarantula, and USS Moccasin (which you could actually argue may be a water moccasin, but still). Then submarines lost their names, using numbers from the C-class in the 1900s through the “Sugar” boats of the 1920s.

However, the vast majority of 20th Century submarines remained named after some form of “fish” from 1931 onwards, starting with USS Barracuda (SS-163) and running through USS Cavalla (SSN-684) in 1973.

The Navy upset the apple cart on this naming convention first with the George Washington-class SSBNs and the follow-on “41 for Freedom” Polaris missile subs in the 1960s, then changed gears again with the Los Angeles-class attack boats and Ohio Trident missile subs of the 1970s. Of note, before that time city and state names were reserved for cruisers and battleships, which by the Carter era were all but gone. 

The reason for the radical change in naming, as reported in 1985 by the NYT, was voiced as such: 

Adm. James D. Watkins, the Chief of Naval Operations, said in an interview that the policy originated while Adm. Hyman G. Rickover was in charge. ”Rickover said, ‘Fish don’t vote,’ ” Admiral Watkins declared.

Well, it would seem that the new SECNAV, who has already announced the next frigate will carry the name of one of the country’s original six frigates, apparently is in touch with his naval history and said this week the next Virginia-class boat will be USS Barb (SSN 804), after the two previous submarines (SS-220 and SSN-596) that carried the name.

USS Barb (SS-220) rams a burning Japanese trawler. The submarine was out of ammo so the crew threw 18 rifle grenades at the trawler which caught fire but didn’t sink so, LCDR Eugene “Lucky” Fluckey, MOH, finished the craft off by ramming

“Our future success depends on leveraging the stories of those who sailed into harm’s way, to teach and inspire the service of those who now wear the uniform,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite.

I, for one, am on board with a return to traditional names.

Welcome back, USS Constellation

I am a sucker for naval tradition and, while 20th Century frigates/destroyer escorts were named either for small towns (see Asheville– and Tacoma-classes) or heroes that are often otherwise forgotten (see Evarts-, Buckley-, Cannon-, Edsall-class, et.al), it was announced yesterday that the fleet’s next frigate class will start off with a familiar name– that of one of the First Six frigates of the newly-formed U.S. Navy, USS Constellation.

Action between U.S. Frigate Constellation and French Frigate Insurgente, 9 February 1799. Painting by Rear Admiral John W. Schmidt, USN (Retired), depicting Constellation (at left) taking position ahead of Insurgente. After an hour-and-a-quarter engagement, the badly outmaneuvered and damaged French frigate surrendered. Constellation was commanded by Captain Thomas Truxtun. Courtesy of the artist. Official U.S. Navy photograph, KN-2882.

Serving from 1797 and named in honor of the collection of 15 stars on the young country’s flag, the original 164-foot, 38-gun Constellation, called “The Yankee Racehorse” due to her speed, endured until 1853 when she was “greatly repaired” at Gosport Navy Yard to become the 179-foot 20-gun sloop-of-war that carried the same name and is currently preserved in Baltimore.

The third completed Connie, of more modern vintage, was the massive Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier which was in service from 1961 to 2003 and is remembered for her hard service in Vietnam, the Cold War, the Tanker War, and Iraq as “America’s Flagship.” Sadly, she was scrapped in 2015.

An aerial port beam view of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64) as crew members form the Battle E awards for excellence on the flight deck of the ship. 1 August 1986 National Archives and Records Administration photo, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 6429186 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6429186

Now, as announced by SECNAV Kenneth J. Braithwaite this week, USS Constellation (FFG 62) will be the lead ship in the new Guided Missile Frigate (FFG(X)) class.

Appropriately, he made the announcement while aboard the museum ship Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

BALTIMORE (Oct. 7, 2020) Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite announces USS Constellation (FFG 62) as the name for the first ship in the new Guided Missile Frigate class of ships while aboard the museum ship Constellation in Baltimore Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Md., Oct. 7, 2020. As the first in her class, the future Guided Missile Frigates will be known as the Constellation Class frigates. Braithwaite visited the museum ship Constellation for the announcement to honor the first U.S. Navy ships authorized by Congress in 1794. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Levingston Lewis)

The Navy emphasized that the FFG-X will be fighting ships, rather than the LCSs we currently have:

As the next generation of small surface combatants will contribute to meeting the goal of 355 battle force ships. With the ability to operate independently or as part of a strike group, it will deliver an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR), Mk 41 Vertical Launching System, and Baseline 10 (BL 10) Aegis Combat System capabilities. The ships lethality, survivability, and improved capability will provide Fleet Commanders multiple options while supporting the National Defense Strategy across the full range of military operations.

It would be great if the next ships of the class repeat other First Six names (Chesapeake, Congress, and President) not currently in use, and carry forward with other famous ship names moving forward (e.g. why do we not have a Ranger, Hornet, Intrepid, etc?).

Either way, it is better than naming them for politicians and labor leaders. 

Battery Free

Official caption: The crew of medium endurance cutter USCGC Northland (WMEC-904) conducts a live firing of the MK 75 76mm weapons system while underway, September 20, 2020, in the Atlantic Ocean. The cutter returned to its homeport of Portsmouth, Virginia, Wednesday after a 47-day patrol conducting counter-drug and migrant interdiction operations in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

(U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo 200920-G-G0105-1003)

Once the standard main gun for all U.S. Navy warships smaller than a destroyer in the 1980s and 90s, the OTO Melera 76mm/62 caliber Super Rapid was at its height carried by 51 Perry-class FFGs, 6 Pegasus-class PHMs, and 25 Coast Guard cutters. The first MK 75 gun produced in the U.S. was delivered in August 1978, with U.S. production handled by FMC.

Today, with the PHMs and FFGs gone, just 13 Bear-class 270-foot cutters such as Northland and two remaining 378-foot Hamiltons are the torch carriers for the system.

Built at the by the Tacoma Boatbuilding Company of Tacoma, Washington, Northland was commissioned on December 17, 1984, making her 36 years young in a few weeks.

« Older Entries