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Bon chance!

While the Mississippi Dixiecrat lawmaker John C. Stennis and the founder of the Fifth Republic of France Charles de Gaulle probably wouldn’t have played well together in many cases, their namesake modern nuclear-powered supercarriers seem to do just fine.

A great series of images were released this week from a passing exercise held Monday (15APR), where the John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Strike Group/Carrier Strike Group 3 was able to maneuver and cooperate with the French Marine Nationale’s Charles de Gaulle Carrier Strike Group in the Red Sea. Commanded by Rear Adm. Olivier Lebas (Fr) and Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer (USN), besides the two carriers their escorts included the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul (DDG 74), and the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) on the U.S. side, and the French air defense destroyer FS Forbin (D 620) along with the attached Royal Danish Navy frigate HDMS Niels Juel (F 363) accompanying De Gaulle. (Below U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua L. Leonard and Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Skyler Okerman)


Note the spread of U.S. and French E-2 Hawkeyes as bookends, sandwiching F-18Es and Dassault Rafale Ms. Of note, while De Gaulle was in her refit over the past several years, the French worked up on U.S. carriers, so there is a lot of common knowledge between the two forces


The RN’s traveling man

As a frequent visitor to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the 1815 defeat of British Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham’s elite regulars and Highlanders by a plucky band of largely irregular Americans under Andrew Jackson, just Southeast of New Orleans, I made sure to head to the Crescent City for The War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration a few years back.

During a Fleet Week style event during the Bicentennial, the Royal Navy Type 23 (Duke-class) frigate HMS Montrose (F236) was on hand as a noted guest of honor. Then the RN’s West Indies Station Ship, the 18-year-old frigate had seen much of the world to include a number of Falkland patrol assignments and lots of duty in the Persian Gulf. As I toured the ship and talked to the Tars aboard, I was struck by their professionalism and their vessel’s highly maintained appearance. Brightwork doesn’t get that way without a continuous effort.

Now, fast forward seven years, and a now 25-year-old Montrose is still a globetrotter– recently sailing the “wrong way” around the world via the Pacific– and she just got assigned to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf for a  three-year three-year stint :

After an epic six-month, 47,000-mile journey from her home in Plymouth, the frigate sailed into the Navy’s new support facility in the Gulf kingdom, the hub of Britain’s naval operations east of Suez.

From there she will conduct regular patrols dealing with drug trafficking in the Indian Ocean – where HMS Dragon scored a record-breaking eight busts over the winter – supporting counter-terrorism and counter-smuggling operations, and work with Middle East and allied navies to ensure the safety and security of this key region.

Instead of returning home to the UK after a six to nine-month deployment, Montrose is being stationed in Bahrain until 2022 to ensure a permanent presence and spare warships the lengthy passage to and from Britain, time which could be spent on patrol in the Middle East.


Cape Wrath, Scotland (April 10, 2019) The Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) fires her beautiful red-white-and-blue embellished 5″/62cal Mk45 Mod 4 gun during a live-fire exercise as part of Joint Warrior 19-1. Dig that 70-pound shell just forward of the bow.


Gravely is deployed as the flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 to conduct maritime operations and provide a continuous maritime capability for NATO in the northern Atlantic. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Andrew Hays/Released)

The first Navy ship named for VADM Samuel L. Gravely Jr., it is an appropriate photo for that esteemed warfighter and surface warfare officer who had three wars under his belt.

Commissioned in 1942, he just missed being one of the “Golden 13” of initial African-American officers in the Navy. He went on to be the only black officer on the submarine chaser USS PC-1264, conducting anti-sub patrols up and down the Eastern Seaboard in WWII. During Korea, he was a communications officer on the battleship USS Iowa, a vessel who got in lots of NGFS missions during that conflict.

Iowa fired at targets off North Korea 1952 80-G-626016

USS Iowa (BB-61) Fires her 16″/50 cal guns at targets in North Korea, circa April-October 1952. The photo is dated 17 December 1952, some two months after Iowa left the Far East at the end of her only Korean War combat tour. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-626016

Going on to skipper the tin cans USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD-717), USS Falgout (DE-324), and USS Taussig (DD-746) during the 1960s, Gravely oversaw NGFS missions off Vietnam in the latter before commanding the guided missile “frigate” (later cruiser) USS Jouett (DLG-29).

Gravely went on to break out his flag over the Third Fleet and retired from the Navy as head of the DCA. He died in 2004 and, as reflected in his 38 years of active and reserve service, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Of Swamp Rats and Little Birds

The aging Reliance-class USCGC Decisive (WMEC-629) just returned to homeport in Pensacola, Florida, after 58-day patrol. I visited with the “Swamp Rats” when she was based at Pascagoula in 2011 and they have taken exceedingly good care of the now-51-year-old cutter.

On her helicopter deck, which regularly accommodate up to an HH-65-sized chopper and conduct HIFR on larger birds. A junior officer normally doubles as the ship’s LSO. (Photo: Chris Eger)

For an idea of just what era she dates from, for the first 20 years of her career, she carried a 3″/50 open mount forward as her main armament.

Sistership USCGC VIGILANT WMEC-617 12 May 1969, note her original 3″/50 and long helicopter deck. These ships were originally to be capable of supporting an 18,000-lb Sea King(!) augmented by a sonar and Mk32 torpedo tubes to conduct convoy operations/coastal defense in the event of WWIII. Those ASW upgrades never happened but these ships are still in service 50 years later. As far as helicopters went, they were only initially tested for and typically used with the 8,500-lb  HH-52 Seaguard, which is more of a baby Sea King than anything else. In wartime, they could have likely operated the SH-2 Seasprite, which went closer to 10,000-lbs.

Of interest in her latest deployment around the Gulf, which included a three-week TSTA at Mayport, saving a fishing vessel taking on water and conducting inspections, the Decisive became the first 210-foot Coast Guard cutter to conduct ship-helicopter operations with three U.S. Army MH-6 helicopters, “Little Birds,” from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR).

The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Decisive conducted helicopter operations with three Army H-6 helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico, March 9, 2019. The training is meant to help pilots land on a moving platform and for crewmembers to work with unfamiliar aircraft. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo/Released)

Now that, is different.

Low clearance, tight squeeze

The largest Royal Navy warship ever to take to the sea, the fleet carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), has been in the water for six years. This means a drydocking period to check her hull and strip away the trees that are growing upon it.

While based at HMNB Portsmouth, she was assembled over an eight-year period in the Firth of Forth at Rosyth Dockyard from components built in six UK shipyards (way to subcontract the pork!) and has headed back to her place of birth for the work. This means sailing under the three Forth bridges, for which she was specifically designed to pass through the (temporary) lowering of her mast.

Similarly, the Queen Elizabeth-class were designed with just 39-inches of clearance to pass through the lock into Rosyth Dockyard– weather and tides providing.

It’s not the only case of ships being formatted to meet navigational limitations. For generations, the U.S. Navy’s carriers and battleships were limited to fit the 110-foot-wide and 890-foot-long Miraflores lock chambers of the Panama Canal (the waterline beam of the Iowa-class was 108 feet while they were 888-feet long, providing just a foot on each side to squeeze through).

A bow view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) passing through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the canal. DN-SN-87-09408

It was controversial to construct the Midway-class of carriers in the 1940s as too big to transit the Canal– a first for the Navy.

Further, to be able to reach the Brooklyn Navy Yard, vessels up to the Forrestal and Kitty Hawk-class conventional supercarriers had an allowance to swing their mast so that could get under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier USS Constellation (CV-64), which was constructed at Brooklyn Naval Yard, passing under the Brooklyn Bridge in 1962

Previous carriers, the Midways, and Essex-classes included could just make it without de-masting.

Essex-class carrier USS Tarawa (CV-40) passes under the Brooklyn Bridge

As could the tallest lattice masts of dreadnought battleships.

BB-39 Arizona in New York City,1918, colorized by Monochrome Specter

About that good, cheap (Chinese) 5G

Via JIOWC OPSEC Support:

In a letter released Wednesday, six former combatant commanders and intelligence chiefs outlined “grave concerns” about risks posed by Chinese-developed 5G networks, including espionage, constraints on U.S. military operations, and threats to democracy and human rights.

Food for thought.

Austere fields

Back in the first days of military aviation, all airfields would be, in today’s terms, “austere.” Just a patch of grass to park the planes along with a flat of packed earth to take off/land with tents and maybe a requisitioned chalet for the crews to bed down in.

March 19, 1916, Columbus, N.M Curtiss JN-3s of the 1st Aero Squadron. Flying from Columbus into Mexico, they accompanied Pershing on the chase for Villa. Dig the red stars. 

Today, about the minimum amount of space needed to operate a modern strike aircraft starts at 3,500 feet of nice runway– and that is just for a lightly loaded aircraft.

However, the ability to use rough forward strips has long been an ace in the hole should the established bases be flattened in the first days of WWIII.

Harrier on a forest highway harrier hide Europe early 1980s

F-5A prototype, rough field trials

Eight A-10s from the 175th Wing on Jägala-Käravete Highway Estonia 

With that, check out the rough field capability of the Saab Gripen


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