US Navy accepts delivery of USS Somerset from Huntington Ingalls

USS Somerset (LPD 25) is the ninth San Antonio-class LPD that HII has delivered to the US Navy. Two more are under construction for a total of 11 ships in the class, although 12 were originally planned (1 cancelled due to budget cuts & cost overruns). A follow-on class, possibly a San Antonio Flight II, or possibly an LSD(X) replacement based on a San Antonio hull, is planned… exact spec pending.

Huntington Ingalls delivers Avondale-built Somerset to U.S. Navy

The USS Somerset, which was christened in July, was delivered to the U.S. Navy today. It was build at the Avondale, La., facility of Huntington Ingalls Industries. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

AVONDALE, Louisiana — Huntington Ingalls Industries announced today that its Ingalls Shipbuilding division has delivered the amphibious transport dock Somerset (LPD 25) to the U.S. Navy.

The DD 250 document officially signifying custody transfer of the ship was signed by officials on the ship at the company’s Avondale facility.

Somerset is the ninth ship in the San Antonio (LPD 17) class of ships Ingalls has delivered to the Navy.

“We are very pleased to deliver this ship to our Navy customer,” said Mike Duthu, director of Ingalls’ LPD 17 program. “With each successive LPD, we apply lessons learned that result in ship-over-ship improvements in quality, efficiency and affordability. With Somerset, the Navy is getting another very capable and adaptable amphibious warship designed and built to enable sailors and Marines to accomplish their missions.”

The ship successfully completed builder’s trials in August and U.S. Navy acceptance trials in September. Ingalls has two more under construction at its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard. John P. Murtha (LPD 26) is slated for completion in 2016, and Portland (LPD 27) will complete in 2017.

Somerset is named to honor the courage of the passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, near Shanksville in Somerset County, Pa. LPD 25 is scheduled to be commissioned in the Navy fleet on March 1, 2014, in Philadelphia. The ship will join the two other Ingalls-built LPDs named in honor of the victims of Sept. 11, USS New York (LPD 21) and USS Arlington (LPD 24).

In addition to more than 10,000 Ingalls shipbuilders, there are 650 suppliers from 38 states that support the LPD 17 program. Ingalls spends approximately $175 million a year with this vital industrial base.

Built to be survivable and flexible, these complex warships ships enable the services to carry out their missions without constraints or additional assets. The 11 ships of the LPD 17 class are a key element of the Navy’s ability to project power ashore. Collectively, they functionally replace more than 41 ships (the LPD 4, LSD 36, LKA 113 and LST 1179 classes of amphibious ships), providing the Navy and Marine Corps with modern, sea-based platforms that are networked, survivable and built to operate with 21st century platforms, such as the MV-22 Osprey.

The LPD 17-class ships are 684 feet long and 105 feet wide and displace approximately 25,000 tons. Their principal mission is to deploy the combat and support elements of Marine Expeditionary Units and Brigades. The ships can carry up to 800 troops and have the capability of transporting and debarking air cushion (LCAC) or conventional landing crafts, augmented by helicopters or vertical take-off and landing aircraft such as the MV-22. These ships will support amphibious assault, special operations or expeditionary warfare missions through the first half of the 21st century.

USS San Antonio rescues 128 refugees from raft in Mediterranean

BZ to the men & women aboard the San Antonio.

USS San Antonio Responds to Persons in Distress Near Malta

NAPLES, Italy (NNS) — At the request of the Maltese government, the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) rendered assistance Oct. 16 to persons in distress at sea in the central Mediterranean.

131016-N-ZZ999-001 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Oct. 16, 2013) Sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious transport dock USS San Antonio (LPD 17) rescued 128 to persons in distress at sea in the central Mediterranean Oct. 16. San Antonio was more than 60 nautical miles away when she was directed to assist, arriving on scene at approximately 6 p.m. local time. The men, between the ages of 20 and 30, were provided food, water, medical attention, and temporary shelter aboard the Norfolk, Va.-based ship. (RELEASED/U.S. Navy photo)

Winds and seas were rocking the raft when it was spotted by a Maltese patrol aircraft. Shortly thereafter, the Maltese government contacted several ships in the area, as well as U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, and requested assistance in rescuing the distressed persons.

San Antonio was a little more than 60 nautical miles away when she was directed to assist, and arrived on scene at approximately 6 p.m. local time. Soon after, her crew began transferring the individuals using two 11-man rigid hull inflatable boats.

In all, 128 men between the ages of 20 and 30 were rescued from the raft. San Antonio provided food, water, medical attention, and temporary shelter to all.

Assistance efforts were ongoing as this story was updated at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

STRIKEFORNATO staff consider using HMS Bulwark as alternative command platform

STRIKFORNATO is the Alliance’s primary battle staff for integrating US maritime forces into NATO operations and replaced the old STRIKFORSOUTH (est. 1952) in 2004. The current command platform is the US Navy Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20). Utilizing HMS Bulwark (L15) as an alternative command platform would ensure operational flexibility for NATO’s maritime operations.

NATO staff take tour of HMS Bulwark

The Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces at NATO (STRIKFORNATO), Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe USN, has paid a visit to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark. VAdm Pandolfe took the opportunity to visit the ship while she was alongside in Lisbon as part of a multi-national exercised called Cougar 13.

The Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces at NATO, Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe USN, has paid a visit to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark. Pictured: (L-R) Captain Burns HMS Bulwark Commanding Officer, RAdm Lowe Royal Navy (RN), VAdm Pandolfe United States Navy and Commodore McAlpine Commander United Kingdom Task Group. Photo by L(Phot) Arron Hoare

The aim of the visit was to evaluate the use of HMS Bulwark as a future Alternative Command Platform (ACP) to the current platform of choice – the USS Mount Whitney.

STRIKFORNATO is NATO’s premier Maritime Battlestaff and the Alliance’s primary link for integrating US Maritime Forces into NATO operations.

Managed by a Memorandum of Understanding comprising 11 nations, STRIKFORNATO is a rapidly deployable, maritime headquarters that provides command and control across the full spectrum of security tasking.

As part of on going contingency planning, the staff of STRIKFORNATO are visiting as many potential ACPs as they can when the opportunity arises.

HMS Bulwark is deployed for four months on Cougar 13 as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) along with three other warships – HMS Illustrious, HMS Westminster and HMS Montrose.

The Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces at NATO, Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe USN, has paid a visit to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark. Pictured: HMS Bulwark leaving Plymouth. Photo by LA(Phot) Ben Shread

Captain Andrew Burns Royal Navy, Commanding Officer HMS Bulwark said:

“One of the main roles of the Fleet Flagship is command and control due to HMS Bulwark’s advanced communications suite and capacity to accommodate large numbers of personnel.

“It is therefore a privilege and delight to show the STRIKFORNATO team our facilities because it helps both of us prepare for potential contingent operations where we could be working together.”

STRIKFORNATO and the RFTG were involved in NATO Operation Unified Protector in 2011, protecting Libyan civilians from attack, and threat of attack from pro-Colonel Gadaffi supporters.

The Cougar 13 deployment will operate in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, the Gulf, and Horn of Africa.

It involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world.

The Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces at NATO, Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe USN, has paid a visit to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark. Pictured: members of Naval Striking and Support Forces at NATO are shown around HMS Bulwark by the Ship’s Company. Photo by L(Phot) Arron Hoare

History of Naval Station Rota (NAVSTA Rota)

Naval Station Rota (NAVSTA Rota) is a Spanish naval base opened in 1955, commanded by a Spanish Admiral, called Base Naval de Rota in Spanish, and yet fully-funded by the United States of America. Often described by the US Navy as the “Gateway to the Mediterranean,” Rota is headquarters for Commander US Naval Activities Spain (COMNAVACTSPAIN). Under the mutual defense agreement signed by the US and Spain during the Franco regime (Convenio de Defensa y Ayuda Económica Mutua), the US is responsible for maintaining the station’s infrastructure, including a 670-acre (2.7 km2) airfield, three active piers, 426 facilities and 806 family housing units.

Base Naval de Rota.

Rota is home to the Spanish Navy’s Grupo de Acción Naval 2, comprising the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias (R-11), the LPDs Galicia (L-51) and Castilla (L-52), and the LST Pizarro (L-42). On its transfer to a state of “restrictive standby” (or what the rest of the world calls “decommissioning”), the Príncipe de Asturias will be replaced by the LHD Juan Carlos I (L61).

SPS Príncipe de Asturias (R-11), originally named the ‘Almirante Carrero Blanco’ after one of Franco’s fascist cronies.

SPS Galicia (L-51), lead vessel in her class of LPDs.

SPS Castilla (L-52), a Galicia-class LPD.

SPS Pizarro (L-42), formerly the Newport-class USS Harlan County (LST-1196).

SPS Juan Carlos I (L-61), Spain’s newest LHD capable of operating Harrier AV-8B and F-35B STVOL aircraft.

Rota is also home to the 41ª Escuadrilla de Escoltas, comprising the Santa Maria-class frigates Santa Maria (F-81), Victoria (F-82), Numancia (F-83), Reina Sofía (F-84), Navarra (F-85) and Canarias (F-86). The Spanish vessels are based on the US Navy’s Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.

SPS Santa Maria (F-81), lead vessel in her class of Spanish frigates, based on the US Oliver Hazard Perry-class.

SPS Victoria (F-82), Santa Maria-class frigate.

SPS Numanica (F-83), Santa Maria-class frigate.

SPS Reina Sofia (F-84), Santa Maria class frigate.

SPS Navarra (F-85), Santa Maria class frigate.

SPS Canarias (F-86), Santa Maria-class frigate.

US tenant units based at Rota include Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Company Europe (FAST Co. Europe), US Naval Hospital Rota, Naval Special Warfare Unit 10 and 725th Air Mobility Squadron.

The strategic location of the base allows it to provide excellent support to US Sixth Fleet units in the Mediterranean and to US Air Force Air Mobility Command units. It is the only base in the Mediterranean which supports amphibious readiness group (ARG) post-deployment wash-downs. The naval station also offers pier-side maintenance and backload facilities. The base complements the ARG unit transfers, and accommodates the sailors and marines of visiting ships.

090702-N-3289E-100 ROTA, Spain (July 2, 2009) Marine Corporal Dustin Shanle Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST), Company Europe stands in front of the Naval Station Rota Spain, flagpole with company mascot Monster during the annual flag raising ceremony. While raising the flag is a daily occurrence on U.S. military bases around the world, because of the Agreement for Defense Cooperation, Naval Station Rota is only permitted to fly the U.S. flag with special permission from the Spanish Admiral-in-Chief. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Ebalo/Released)

During the Cold War, Rota was home port to Submarine Squadron 16 (SUBRON 16) and the depot ship USS Proteus (AS-19), later USS Holland (AS-32). Submarines assigned to the squadron included the USS Lafayette (SSBN-616) and USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657).

USS Proteus (AS-19), submarine tender for SUBRON 16.

USS Holland (AS-32), submarine tender for SUBRON 16.

Poseidon C-3 (UGM-73A) missile is launched from the nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine USS Lafayette (SSBN-616).

USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) during sea trials off the Atlantic coast.

USS Ponce escapes mothball fleet to fulfill new rôle in the Persian Gulf

The USS Ponce, until 2011 one of the oldest LPDs in commission with the US Navy, escaped a trip to the mothball fleet by finding a new role as the USN’s Afloat Forward Staging Base, Interim (AFSB-I) supporting mine countermeasures vessels and helicopters in the Persian Gulf.

USS Ponce stays afloat in unique role as forward staging base

Helicopters sit on the deck of the USS Ponce during a large-scale international mine countermeasures exercise May 20 in the Persian Gulf. The Ponce was reclassified from an amphibious landing transport dock to an interim afloat forward staging base for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Hendrick Simoes/Stars and Stripes

MANAMA, Bahrain — When the USS Ponce returned to Norfolk in December 2011 with its 360 crewmembers and thousands of additional shipmates — roaches that had inhabited the vessel — it was supposed to be its final deployment.

After its “victory lap,” it was scheduled to decommission in March 2012. But the U.S. Navy decided the race wasn’t quite yet over for the 41-year old ship.

The Ponce, nicknamed the Proud Lion, was reclassified from an amphibious landing transport dock to an interim afloat forward staging base for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, and it arrived at its new Bahrain homeport in July 2012.

It was a first for the Navy, whose officials described it as an experiment, partially inspired in part by the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk’s role as an afloat special operations staging base during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

For the first time, the Navy has such a platform permanently based in the 5th fleet theater and capable of doing a variety of missions — including humanitarian relief or special operations — utilizing the ship’s flight deck, well deck and immense storage capacity.

Another experimental aspect was that in its new role the ship would essentially be manned by a crew of civilian mariners from the Military Sealift Command integrated with U.S. Navy sailors. It currently has about 220 crewmembers — 165 civilians and 55 servicemembers.

“It keeps you on your toes,” said Capt. Jon Rodgers, commander of the USS Ponce. “I’ve touted two cultures, one crew.”

Walking aboard the ship, it’s common to see civilians with beards, long hair, and men with earrings — all things that would be considered to be contrary to good order and military discipline on a regular U.S. Navy ship.

Still, the biggest challenge for the Proud Lion in past year has been physically converting the ship to an afloat staging base. Since the ship was expected to have been decommissioned, it was in severe disrepair and much of the task of retrofitting and modernizing it fell to the crew, who did so even as the ship transited from Norfolk to the Middle East June last year.

“The ship was pretty broken,” said Christopher Semmler, an engineer on the Ponce, adding that all the maintenance work has given him good experience to put on his resume.

The bridge, pilot house, combat information center and many more compartments were completely overhauled. The crew also installed some new compartments such as a shipboard ER complete with an operating room designed by Navy surgeons. And the work continues, especially in engineering where temperatures below regularly exceed 130 degrees in the Gulf.

“We are constantly dealing with breakdowns, overhauls and fixes,” said Steven Wojtasinski, an engineer. Since the Ponce was built in the late 1960s, the engineering equipment “brings you back in time a little bit,” he added.

But the underlying problem of how much money should the Navy put into a vessel considered an interim solution, remains unresolved.

On July 10, 2013, the Ponce celebrated its 42nd birthday, and there is much uncertainty about how many more birthdays it will have. Rodgers said he believed it will remain in service at least until 2016 when it may possibly be relieved by a newer vessel.

Since the ship’s arrival in the 5th Fleet, it has played a key command and control role as the centerpiece in two 5th Fleet led, large-scale international maritime security exercises in the Persian Gulf.

“It is an experiment, and I think it’s been a successful one,” said Rodgers, who claims the vessel has 10 more years of life in her.

But, he admits he has a bias.

“She is a wise old ship, and if the nation needed her to go further I’m sure she can do it.”

Chile on track to buy another French assault ship

The Chilean Navy is on track to buy another reconditioned amphibious multirole assault vessel from France, Chilean defense media reported.

The Armada de Chile currently has several reconditioned foreign vessels in its fleet. The Almirante Williams (FF-19) is a former Royal Navy Type 22 frigate, the Almirante Cochrane (FF-05), the Almirante Condell (FF-06) and the Almirante Lynch (FF-07) are former Royal Navy Type 23 frigates, and the Sargento Aldea (LSDH-91) is a former French Navy Foudre-class LPD.

Chile on track to buy another French assault ship

SANTIAGO, Chile, July 1 (UPI) — The Chilean navy is on track to buy another reconditioned amphibious multirole assault vessel from France, Chilean defense media reported.

Purchase of the Sirocco 12,000-ton vessel was delayed through 2012 and this year as the Chilean navy considered various options for equipping Chile’s year-old Amphibious Expeditionary Brigade. The force eventually will have at least 1,400 troops in its ranks and an unspecified number of ships, helicopters and armored vehicles.

President Sebastian Pinera and aides see the expeditionary force as a prestige addition to the military infrastructure, to be used for a range of missions from disaster relief to international peacekeeping under U.N. auspices.

In 2011 Chile acquired another Sirocco multirole ship from France, previously called the Foudre. The vessel was renamed Sargento Aldea after it entered Chilean naval service and heralded the launch of the Amphibious Expeditionary Brigade.

Chilean officials have not yet discussed details of the second purchase. The Foudre was sold to Chile for $80 million but it’s far from clear if the same price will apply to the second ship. The Foudre was involved in an incident while pursuing French military operations in west Africa in 2009. On Jan. 17 that year, one of the ship’s helicopters crashed off the coast of Gabon, killing eight French military personnel. Casualties during the ship’s previous operations in Ivory Coast and during the NATO operations in Yugoslavia were not discussed.

The Sargento Aidea operates out of Valparaiso, Chile’s historic transit point for ships operating between the Pacific and the Atlantic via the Magellan Strait. The waterway has assumed strategic importance for Chile as it projects its military and political presence in the Antarctic and surrounding regions.

Official consideration of the second purchase was also held up amid leadership changes in the Chilean navy. This month Adm. Enrique Larranaga Martin took over as the new naval chief, replacing Admiral Edmundo Gonzalez-Robles. Military analysts say with that change at the top the stage was set for completing the purchase.

The French navy plans to retire an amphibious assault ship later this year.

Progress on the Amphibious Expeditionary Brigade has been slow. The Sargento Aidea still is being refurbished and may add more helicopters to its inventory. At full capacity, the Foudre-class vessel can carry up to seven helicopters, about 100 armored vehicles and transport up to 450 troops, Chile’s Defense and Military blog said on its website.

Chile regards the amphibious ships as valuable to its program of developing patrol duties along the Pacific coast, enhancing the ship’s role as a hospital on the move to cater for outlying inhabitants along the coast and perform other peacetime security duties.

There are plans also to acquire more helicopters and armored vehicles.

Chile would be able to move its Amphibious Expeditionary Brigade many thousands of miles, and be able to support it with armor and logistical units, the blog said.

“But the brigade still would lack one of the key elements of a true blue water navy: warplanes,” it said. Chile has no plans to acquire vertical-takeoff planes such as Harriers to give its marines an air-attack or air-superiority arm. Instead, the brigade is being built to serve as a peacekeeping force, though it certainly could be used in case of armed conflict.

Former Navy Commander Adm. Gonzalez-Robles said the Foudre’s purchase was more than a new acquisition.

“What we are doing is recovering the capacity we lost when Valdivia after fifteen years in service was decommissioned,” he said, citing the former U.S. Navy ship acquired by Chile in 1995 and retired in January 2011.

Earlier Chile bought a 42,000-ton tanker, Andrew J. Higgins, from the U.S. Navy. Renamed Almirante Montt the vessel replaced AO-53 Araucano, which was decommissioned after 40 years of service.