Tag Archives: USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3)

Apache Junction

Back at the hottest part of the Iran-Iraq Tanker War in 1987-89, Operation Prime Chance saw Army SOAR Little Birds and OH-58s deploying from FFGs as well as 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, Navy Seahawks for C-SAR while they were protected by Marine air defense units to pop interloping low-flying tangos.

An aerial view of the leased barge Hercules with three PB Mark III patrol boats and the tugboat Mister John H tied up alongside. The barge is part of Operation Prime Chance, supporting U.S. Navy efforts to provide security for U.S.-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf. 1 January 1989 Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Smith DNST8908773

Fast forward to 2020 and the concept is fully fleshed out some 30 years later with the 78,000-ton purposely-built expeditionary mobile base vessels of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) class.

USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. ESB 3 is able to carry at least four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Puller has a dozen weapon stations (think M2 .50 cals) to protect against small boats, and the ability to support at least four CH-53-sized helicopters and 300 mission crew.

Recently, Puller showcased Task Force Saber, an Army AH-64 unit, which caused a lot of interest from Iranian Revolutionary Guard guys last week.

Official caption: Soldiers of Task Force Saber conduct rotary-wing deck landing operations with the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Lewis B. Puller in the Persian Gulf April 15-16, 2020. Task Force Saber utilized the USS Puller as a maritime base to practice launching rotary-wing assets. (U.S. Army video by Sgt. Trevor Cullen):

Nipping at the heels

Apparently taking the sidelining of the Teddy Roosevelt carrier battlegroup in Guam and the Ronald Reagan group in Japan during the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis as the blood trail of a wounded beast, Iran, China, and Russia are sniffing around and flexing a bit where the U.S. is forward-deployed.

WestPac

China’s six-ship Liaoning carrier group (Liaoning along with two type 052D guided-missile destroyers – the Xining and Guiyang – two type 054A guided-missile frigates – the Zaozhuang and Rizhao – and a type 901 combat support ship, the Hulunhu) passed through the tense Miyako Strait, between Okinawa and Taiwan, over the weekend, under the eyes of various JMSDF, U.S. and ROC assets.

Chinese carrier ‘Liaoning with escorts. Photos via Chinese Internet

Further, as reported by the South China Morning Post: “On Thursday [9 Apr], an H-6 bomber, J-11 fighter and KJ-500 reconnaissance plane from the PLA Air Force flew over southwestern Taiwan and on to the western Pacific where they followed a US RC-135U electronic reconnaissance aircraft.”

Of note, the ROC Army has sent some of their aging but still very effective M60A3 tanks out into public in recent days in what was announced a pre-planned exercise. Still, when you see an MBT being camouflaged in the vacant lot down the block, that’s a little different.

Photo via Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Note the old KMT cog emblem. Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Very discrete. Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Meanwhile, in the Arabian Gulf

A series of 11 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels on Wednesday (15 April 15) buzzed the expeditionary platform USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), and her escorts, the destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), the 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol craft USS Firebolt (PC 10) and USS Sirocco (PC 6), and two 110-foot Island-class Coast Guard cutters, USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304), while the U.S. vessels were conducting operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.

The below footage seems to be from the running bridge of one of the Coast Guard 110s, likely Maui from reports, and you can see what the Navy terms a Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC), armed with a heavy machine gun with a deck guy’s hands on the spades.

The IRGCN fields hundreds of such 30- to 50-foot fast boats, armed with a variety of rockets, machine guns, and small mines, and have been the organization’s bread and butter since the early 1980s.

For reference

As noted by the 5th Fleet:

The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach (CPA) and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow.

The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.

After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened the distance between them.

ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the north Arabian Gulf. U.S. forces are conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Potomu chto ya byl perevernut

Not to feel left out, 6th Fleet reports (emphasis mine) that a Syrian-based Russian Flanker-E came out over the Med to buzz a P-8:

On April 15, 2020, a U.S. P-8A Poseidon aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-35. The interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-35 conducting a high-speed, inverted maneuver, 25 ft. directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk. The crew of the P-8A reported wake turbulence following the interaction. The duration of the intercept was approximately 42 minutes.

While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents, including the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA). Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and the potential for midair collisions.

The U.S. aircraft was operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.