Tag Archives: Joint Interagency Task Force South

Shades of Prime Chance

Back at the hottest part of the Iran-Iraq Tanker War in 1987-89, Operation Prime Chance saw Army Little Birds and AH/OH-58Ds “Sea Cavalry” of Task Force 118 deploying from FFGs and two leased Brown & Root crane barges dubbed Mobile Sea Base Hercules and Mobile Sea Base Wimbrown 7. Set up in the Northern Persian Gulf, the latter supported eight MkIII 65-foot patrol boats and an array of Army AH-64D Longbow Apaches and Navy Seahawks for C-SAR while they were protected by Marine air defense units to pop interloping low-flying tangos.

Task Force 118, OP Prime Chance, a Navy FFG with A/OH-58D Kiowa embarked

US Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior of TF 118’s 4 Sqn/7 Cav., 18 Aviation Brig. “Thugs” overflying USS Curts (FFG-38). Academy model top box art.

Fast forward to today and Joint Task Force-Bravo, part of 4th Fleet/SOUTHCOM, this week posted these images of Army UH-60s conducting deck landing qualifications with the USS Billings (LCS 15) while some 50 miles off the coast of El Salvador recently. In all, 14 pilots and 14 crew chiefs accomplished the deck landing qualification. The training was conducted using four Black Hawk UH-60L helicopters of 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment (1-228) equipped with pylon systems.

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo’s 1-228th Aviation Regiment lands on the deck of the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Billings (LCS 15) during deck landing qualification training off the coast of El Salvador, July 16, 2022. Achieving and maintaining deck landing qualifications ensures flight crews are mission ready to support any humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, or other contingency operations across the United States Southern Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Master-at-Arms 1st Class John Carson)

(U.S. Navy photo by Master-at-Arms 1st Class John Carson)

(U.S. Navy photo by Master-at-Arms 1st Class John Carson)

Of course, this shows the utility of the LCS platform as a forward arming and refueling point and mothership just outside of shore fires while the vessel carries a modicum of self-protection capability, at least against a Third World adversary. 

Via JTF-B: 

The training took place approximately 50 miles off the coast of El Salvador and involved five landings by each crew across two-days of training. The deck landing capability is somewhat unique for U.S. Army aircrew who primarily operate over land.
“The capability to be ready when called upon for over-water mission support is critical in Central America,” said U. S. Army Lt Col. Charles Hall, commander, 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment. “The skills and confidence these aviators gained through our Joint relationship with the Navy extend our capability to support our Central American partners in the region we live and operate.”

While the LCSs are controversial, it is precisely this type of (wait for it) littoral contingency operation the vessels were intended for, and the Freedom-variant, with its trimaran hull, low signature, shallow draft, and large helicopter deck excel at.

Typically, the Freedom-variant LCSs have been deployed in the past couple of years with an integrated combination of a single multi-mission MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter and two radar-capable MQ-8B Fire Scout drones along with five pilots, four aircrewmen, and 16 maintainers.

An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle attached to HSC-8 Eightballers prepares to land on the flight deck of the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Billings (LCS 15). Billings 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 Operations Specialist First Class Jacob Walker/Released)

As the Fire Scouts can remain airborne for 5 hours at a time up to 100 miles away from the host, and carry a day/night day real-time ISR target acquisition and maritime search radar, they can prove a powerful force modifier that the old Prime Chance crews would have loved.

The more capable MQ-8Cs, which are coming online, have double the range and endurance as well as a Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 (Osprey) radar system, giving it better “eyes” than the MH-60S.

Ironically, based on the Bell 407 airframe, the MQ-8C series is, at its heart, the same aircraft that the Army used as the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior which was used in Prime Chance/Desert Storm from the deck of Navy FFGs. It will be nice when the Charlie models start carrying ordnance.

PT. MUGU, Calif. (Oct. 31, 2013) An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle takes off from Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu. The Navy’s newest variant of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter completed its first day of flying Oct. 31 with two flights reaching 500 feet altitude. The MQ-8C air vehicle upgrade will provide longer endurance, range, and greater payload capability than the MQ-8B. Initial operating capability for the MQ-8C is planned for 2016.

The more things change.

Slumming it in the colonies

What an idyllic nautical scene! This image, posted by the Forces Armées de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, the French garrison in their of New Caledonia, is of the Floréal-class light surveillance frigate Vendémiaire (F734) tied up at her base at Noumea, that South Western Pacific colony’s primary port.

Vendémiaire just left Noumea last week on one of her regular two-month cruises around the West Pac.

The six Floreals, built in the early 1990s just after the end of the Cold War, are interesting 3,000-ton (full load) 306-foot ships that split the difference between a standard frigate and a Coast Guard cutter. Built with a diesel-only suite, rather than CODAG/DOG, they have a maximum speed of just 20 knots but can range over 9,000nm without searching for a tanker and pull into ports that can accommodate a 14-foot draft.

Their hulls were reportedly built to commercial standards, but that hasn’t stopped them from putting in three decades of solid overseas service and still looking good and well-maintained.

Armed with simple weapons pulled from retired platforms– a single 4-inch/55 cal CADAM Modèle 68 main gun, a pair of 20mm GIATs, and accommodation for some Exocets– they can also embark a light helicopter and a platoon of French Marines (who are notorious for being unable to take a joke).

Note her recognition “VN” marks on her helicopter deck, and her twin 20mm GIATs with ready boxes over the hangar. The vacant deck space behind her stack was originally for MM38 Exocets, but could always pick up a more modern AShM, such as the NSM.

Vendémiaire has spent almost her entire 29-year career at Nouméa while her sisterships Floréal and Nivôse are based at Réunion– the French Indian Ocean colony between Mauritius and Madagascar– Prairial at Tahiti (what a horrible duty station!) while Ventôse and Germinal are at Martinique in the Caribbean, with the latter two vessels often supporting U.S. 4th Fleet training, humanitarian, and counter-drug initiatives.

Shorter and slower than the more expensive LCS concept, they also can provide NGFS in the littoral if needed, though arguably are even more prone to air attack. 

MARTINIQUE, FRANCE (June 23, 2021) The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11) conducts a bilateral maritime exercise with the French Navy Floréal-class frigate FS Germinal (F735) following a port visit to Martinique, France, June 23, 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)

A look at JIATF South

CBS takes an in-depth look at Joint Interagency Task Force South. Based out of Key West, it’s commanded by a USCG flag officer but includes assets from throughout USSOUTHCOM and 4th Fleet. It’s a neat video with a lot of access granted. They go inside the CIC of a National Security Cutter– USCGC James (WMSL-754)– see HITRON fire some rounds, and get a close up of Bigfoot, the narcosub over at Truman Annex that everyone poses for pictures with.