Tag Archives: Fourth Fleet

Key West ‘foils

In my post Monday about the USS Key West‘s pending decommissioning, and the fact that the city island she is named in honor of is set to celebrate the commissioning next month of a new destroyer (whose namesake doesn’t have any ties to Key West as far as I can tell) I stated there hasn’t been an active duty Navy ship homeported there since the sub base closed in 1974.

Long-time reader Big Marcus quickly pointed out that statement was an error.

Somehow, for reasons I cannot explain, I forgot about Patrol Combatant Missile Hydrofoil Squadron (PHMRON) TWO, which called Key West home from 1980 to 1993.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. The insignia for Patrol Combatant Missile Hydrofoil Squadron Two on the hydrofoil USS TAURUS (PHM 3), 1982. Via NARA DN-ST-86-01869

A pet project of ADM Elmo Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy was the point man for a NATO hydrofoil program– spurred by boats such as the Soviet Sarancha type-– in the early 1970s that, between West Germany, Italy, and the U.S., aimed to produce swarms of these potent little fast attack craft that would be particularly useful in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf, Baltic, and Meddeterrian.

Pegasus class PHMs via Jane’s 1973 ed

In 1973, the Soviets were running Project 1240 Uragan (Hurricane), NATO reporting name Sarancha, a 300-ton, 175-foot “rocket cutter” that could make 58 knots on its hydrofoils and carry four SS-N-9 Siren AshMs, an SA-N-4 Gecko Osa-M “Dustbin” SAM system and a 30mm AK-630 mount– a pretty impressive fit for the day! Of course, the Russkis only built one boat in the project, MRK-5, but it did lead to a 12-ship run of follow-on Matka-class (Project 206MR Vikhr) PHMs for use in the Black Sea.

The Pegasus-class PHMs, via the International Hydrofoil Society. Thirty of these could have proved interesting in a conflict where air superiority was assured.

They were crafted with 15 years of lessons learned by the Navy with the one-off hydrofoils USS High Point (PCH-1), USS Plainview (AGEH-1), and USS Tucumcari (PGH-2).

Well, after Zumwalt left the Navy in 1974, the PHM program dropped from a planned 30 vessels to just six, then the Germans dropped out of the program (electing to go with the more traditional S-143 class schnellboot) and the Italians elected instead to go with the smaller (60 ton, 75 foot) Sparviero class boats of which the Japanese also built three copies (the 1-go class).

The new Pegasus class PHMs were built by Boeing, with a big gap between the lead unit’s 1977 commissioning and the follow-on five vessels entering service in 1981-82.

Pegasus on trials

USS Hercules (PHM-2) bow-on. She was a Pegasus-class missile hydrofoil, seen on the cover of a Boeing brochure

Seattle, pegasus class hydrofoil USS Taurus (PHM-3) during her acceptance trials

DN-ST-84-07572 Gas Turbine System Technician Second Class Steve Miller monitors the controls at the engineer’s station board the patrol combatant missile hydrofoil USS Gemini (PHM-6), 1 January 1983

DN-ST-90-09381 The patrol combatant missile hydrofoils USS HERCULES (PHM 2) and USS TAURUS (PHM 3) maneuver off of Key West, Florida.

USS Hercules (PHM-2) and Taurus (PHM-3) 1983

Hydrofoil USS Hercules PHM-2 passes USS Iowa during Northern Wedding 86 DN-ST-87-00313

Hydrofoil USS Hercules, PHM-2 Squadron 2,i n Key West DN-SC-90-09332

Hydrofoil USS Hercules PHM-2 Squadron 2 in Key West DN-SC-87-08290

Hydrofoils USS AQUILA (PHM 4), front, and USS GEMINI (PHM 6), center, lie tied up in port with a third PHM. The Coast Guard surface effect ship (SES) cutter USCGC SHEARWATER (WSES 3) is in the background

Hydrofoil patrol combatant missile ship USS TAURUS (PHM 3) races by. “Navy hydrofoils are regularly used on Joint Task Force 4 drug interdiction missions.”

In 1980, PHM-1 was homeported in Key West where PHMRON 2 would slowly be stood up, to lend their muscle to USNAVSO’s (now Fourth Fleet’s) counterdrug efforts in conjunction with the USCG. Of course, they also did a lot of “orange force” battle group workups for ships in training out of GTMO and Rosey Roads, helped develop the Navy’s fast ship tactics at a time when the Iranians were really sowing their oats, and contributed to Operation Urgent Fury — the 1983 liberation of Grenada– with the latter being the type’s first and last combat use.

They were a core asset of Joint Task Force FOUR (CJTF-4), now JIATF South, when that group was stood up in 1989 at Key West. 

Plus, if things ever got squirrely with the Cubans, the 48 Harpoons and six 75mm guns of PHMRON 2 could likely take out the cream of Castro’s navy in a surface action without having to detail anything more than some F-16s out of Homestead to keep the MiGs away. 

In all, the squadron required just 154 shoreside maintenance and support personnel in addition to the vessels’ crews. All told, about 300 men. 

Although they garnered something like a third of the Navy’s drug busts in the decade they were active, and only cost about a third the cost of an FFG to operate, the entire squadron was sidelined in June 1993 and then shipped to Little Creek for mass decommissioning, with the newer PHMs only having been in service 11 years.

For more on the class, the National Archives has a ton of images, see the presentation by the International Hydrofoil Society, and visit the USS Aries (PHM-5) museum ship in Missouri.