Tag Archives: USNAVSO

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.

Navy Drops the Ax on Bonnie Dick, 2 LCS, and 3 PCs

As the fiscal year plays out the Navy has released tentative inactivation dates for eight vessels. One is the battered and economically unsavable USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD-6), which blazed away last year to the point of no return. Perhaps a mothballed LHA can be retrieved from Pearl Harbor’s loch and returned to service for a few years to make up for the shortcoming.

Another hit, laying up the old MSC-controlled fleet tug USNS Sioux (T-ATF 171) is a natural course of action as the Navy is building a new and more capable class of tugs to replace the older vessels.

In a gut punch, the two initial class leaders for the Little Crappy Ships, USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Independence (LCS-2), will be taken out of commission this summer, their apparent beta tests concluded after just 12 years. USS Fort Worth and USS Coronado, ships with even fewer miles, are certain to follow.

USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) will be laid up in April. The 33-year-old Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship will not be needed anymore in a gator fleet that is gaining big hulled 25,000-ton LPDs at the same time that the Marines are shedding all of their tanks and most of their artillery. Notably, she is the first of her class on the block.

Finally, three of the much-maligned 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol craft, USS Zephry (PC-8), USS Shamal (PC-13), and USS Tornado (PC-14) will be deactivated by 2 March 2021, with the first two set to be scrapped and the Tornado placed up for Foreign Military Sales. As class leader Cyclone was given to the Philippines in 2004, you can guess where Tornado will likely wind up.

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2021) Sailors conduct a decommissioning ceremony aboard the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Shamal (PC 13) at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. Shamal is one of three Cyclone-class patrol ships being decommissioned at Naval Station Mayport. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Austin G. Collins)

In short, Big Navy never liked the PCs and have repeatedly tried to kill them off over the years, shopping them overseas and to the Coast Guard. However, they have proved very useful in the Persian Gulf– where most are forward deployed– and as the sole assets for the 4th Fleet in the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean. With the Coast Guard’s new and more effective 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters reaching 50~ hulls, six of which are set to be deployed to Bahrain, it seems like the Navy is electing to go more Coasty in the Iranian small-boat Cold War.

I happen to know the resting place of Tornado’s sideboard from ger USCG days based at NAVSTA Pascagoula!

As well as Shamals

In related news, it looks like the Navy is also set to scrap their dozen 82-foot Mark IV patrol boats. An ambitious program originally intended to field 48 units in 2012, the wargamers say they will be live bait in a conflict with China. Duh.

And so closes another chapter in the book of how the Navy hates brown water and wants you to hate it to.

It’s official, first four LCSs headed to “Red Lead Row.” Why not Blow Row?

As we have talked about previously, the first flight littoral combat ships (Freedom, Independence, Fort Worth, and Coronado) have been deemed too beta to be upgraded enough for regular fleet use. In a  burst from the CNO last month, the word is now official: all four will be shifted to OCIR status (Out of Commission, In Reserve) on 31 March 2021, with the youngest, Coronado, being just six years old.


In a case of bad timing, the Navy’s PAO just released this very well done “A Day in the Life of an LCS” video, filmed on the new Freedom-class USS Indianapolis (LCS 17).

Notably, the three Cyclone-class 170-foot patrol craft not up to their neck in the Persian Gulf (USS Zephyr PC-8, USS Shamal PC-13, and USS Tornado PC-14) are also to be disposed of on the same date.

MAYPORT, Fla. (Aug. 02, 2016) – The Cyclone-class Patrol Coastal USS Shamal (PC 13) returns to homeport U.S. Naval Station Mayport after a 62-day deployment to the 4th Fleet area of responsibility where they conducted counter illicit trafficking operations in support of Operation Martillo. Operation Martillo is a joint international law enforcement and military operation involving U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nations, targeting illicit trafficking routes in the waters off Central America. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Hendricks/Released)

The other 10 craft has been at Bahrain for most of the past decade while Zephyr, Shamal, and Tornado– two of which were formerly Coast Guard-manned out of Pascagoula’s old NAVSTA– have been based in Mayport under 4th Fleet’s control– just about the only Navy vessels that are regularly outside of ships transiting through or on training evolutions.

This of course begs the question of, why not give the “old” LCSs to U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO/FOURTHFLT)? Call em PCs? Get some tax dollars out of them.

Is this where I point out that the lastest 4th Fleet deployments have surged DDGs? Wait, wasn’t the LCS program designed to prevent billion-dollar Aegis ships from being used in constabulary work?

Whomp Whomp.