For those of you getting your Captain Phillips fix over popcorn, here’s an article from BJ Armstrong back in 2011 that qualifies as “must read” for those interested in the partnership forged by the US Navy and the Royal Navy in the fight against piracy.
Rotorheads and the Royal Navy in Maritime Security Operations
On August 11t h, 2011 the M/V Caravos Horizon was attacked by “sea bandits” in the Red Sea, just north of the Straits of Bab al Mendib. The distress call was picked up by Combined Task Force 151 and Expeditionary Strike Group 5, and they determined that there were two naval assets capable of responding in the vicinity. HMS MONMOUTH, a British Frigate, and USS BATAAN, an American amphibious assault ship, both swung into action. The crew of the Caravos Horizon secured themselves inside a “citadel” as six “sea bandits” boarded and took control of the bridge of the ship.
Bay Raider 45, an armed MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-28 Detachment TWO, was airborne flying regularly scheduled Search and Rescue duty with the BATAAN Amphibious Ready Group at the time of the attack. The Knighthawk was brought back to the flight deck to top off the fuel. Expeditionary Strike Group 5 ordered the BATAAN ARG to send a helicopter toward the scene of the attack to provide intelligence, survelliance, and reconnisance (ISR) and to report information back to BATAAN. Bay Raider launched and headed south to provide assistance to the mariners in distress.
The purpose of this post isn’t to re-tell the story of the event. Both HMS MONMOUTH and USS BATAAN released reports of the incident which can be found in the open press. The PAO’s put hard work into these articles, read them for the story of a successful boarding to retake control of the M/V Caravos Horizon. Instead of rehashing the story, here at the USNI blog we’ll look at the larger picture…what lessons can we learn about counter-piracy and naval irregular warfare?
In October of 2010 I was lucky to be invited to speak as a panelist at the Naval Institute’s History Conference “Pirates on the High Seas” during a discussion of the history of piracy and counter-piracy titled “Blackbeard to the Barbary.” In my opening remarks I highlighted three things that stuck out from the 200+ year history of the USN’s counter piracy missions: Platforms, People, and Partnerships. Specifically, having the right “low end/high end” mix of hardware to do the job, having professional and aggressive junior officers to lead operations, and having competent and —allies to work with in the region. The combined Anglo-American response to the attack on M/V Caravos Horizon reinforces that these principles are as important in the twenty-first century as they were when Decatur, Porter, and Downes sailed in the nineteenth.
When it comes to the hardware involved in this successful operation, a key takeaway is the vital importance of rotary-wing aviation. Irregular operations rarely require the expensive, fast, sexy, high altitude TACAIR jets that you’ll find in Hollywood movies. They need the quiet professionals of the often overlooked naval rotary-wing community. Helicopters embarked on the ships that conduct counter-piracy operations are a force multiplier that provide the ability to respond rapidly, develop critical ISR, and finally to provide overwatch and maritime air support for boarding operations. Sending a ship on counter-piracy or irregular warfare missions without an embarked helicopter significantly degrades the unit’s capability.
The rapid response by the RN Lynx to the scene allowed for the development of early situational awareness which became a key factor for success. The follow on arrival of Bay Raider allowed the ISR net to be cast further away from the attacked vessel. It was able to find two skiffs, which they believed were the suspected “sea bandits.” Our Knighthawk remained overhead briefly as a visible deterrent, and the skiffs turned away from the shipping lanes and headed off at high speed. The two aircraft together could cover hundreds of square miles and help develop situational awareness far beyond the capability of a single surface combatant. When time came for the boarding, the ability to have Bay Raider provide armed overwatch and ISR while the Lynx conducted the insertion was an important element of protecting the boarding party and helping to ensure their success.
The MH-60S Block III Armed Helo’s that now deploy with amphibious assault ships like BATAAN come in the gunship variant. These aircraft have a wide range of armament options that make it a highly capable platform. You can buy nearly a squadron of them for the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter. The crews that fly them like LT Lee Sherman, LT Chris Schneider, AWS2 Joey Faircloth, and AWS3 Josh Teague, are trained in a number of mission areas that lend themselves to maritime security operations and irregular warfare. While the traditional mission of running the racetrack in the “Starboard D” holding pattern as the “SAR Bird” is still a central part of their job (after all, its where Bay Raider 45 started the day), the Armed Helo provides a widely expanded set of capabilities for Amphibious Ready Groups and is an ideal platform for naval irregular warfare.
The Knighthawk pilots and aicrewmen of the Helicopter Sea Combat community are trained for a wide range of missions and skills which lend themselves to successful naval irregular warfare. These include anti-surface warfare and special operations support, as well as the traditional rotary-wing missions of search and rescue and logisitics support.
It is important to note that the “deckplate” leaders of the operations were all junior officers that had been extensively trained and prepared to make combat decisions. Lt Harry Lane RM, commander of the Royal Marines boarding team, Lt Chris Easterling RN, aircraft commander of the Lynx, LT Chris “Texas Pete” Schneider USN, of Bay Raider, are three individuals quoted and identified in the press releases. That wasn’t simply because they were the ones that the PAO could find because they weren’t on watch. These junior officers, along with LT Lee “Chunk” Sherman who was the aircraft commander of Bay Raider 45, demonstrated that when tactical level leaders are given the ability to make decisions and to temper their aggressive nature with solid tactical risk management, operational level success is around the corner.
The partnership element to this operation is obvious. The USN and RN have been working together since nearly our service’s founding to combat piracy and threats to maritime security across the globe. During the First Barbary War the British bases in the Mediterranean were opened to American ships in support of our fight against the Corsairs. In the West Indies in the 1820’s and 1830’s American squadrons teamed with the Royal Navy to help fight the piracy from Cuba. At the end of the 19th century we supported one another in the rivers and coastal waters of China. Sharing the same battlefields over the past decade has helped bring tactics, techniques, and procdures closer together across the range of military operations.
What struck me was the quote from LT Schneider in the BATAAN article about the seamless nature of the combined operation. It mirrored a comment made by LT Sherman during debrief after the mission. He said that working together with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, “was like we had done it all together before.” Seamless was a word used by both pilots. Our two ships have never seen one another, we never spoke before the moment that Bay Raider checked in with the Lynx over the radio, yet common procedures and decades of experience in combined operations allowed the junior leaders to adapt and flex for a rapid and effective operation.
There are other partnership elements of the mission that are also worth considering. The coastal states of the region are relatively quick to give permission for operations within their territorial waters when it is counter-piracy. This is a commonly overlooked element, during the 1820’s when the Spanish weren’t as cooperative off Cuba it made the work of the USN’s West Indies squadron much more difficult. The ability of the myriad of staffs and command organizations working in the region to work together is also vital. In today’s world of networked battlefields it can be easy for the networks to get overlayed on top of one another, and potentially tangled. With American and multi-national staffs all working the same geography and sea space, the ability to keep it straight and to respond efficiently in order to make decisions between the staffs is vital.
So Others May Live…Or Die.
The operation to secure the M/V Caravos Horizon demonstrates the critical role of the amphibious fleet and rotary-wing aviation to maritime security and American policy around the world. It also reinforces the idea that the right platforms, purposely trained and led people, and strong global partnerships are central to success in naval irregular warfare and in the hybrid maritime conflicts that the United States Navy may face in the coming decades. It must be said that for each aircraft and pilot there are dozens of maintenance professionals and supporting personnel that make our Navy’s global reach possible. Maintainers are the bedrock of the rotary-wing team that successfully completed this mission.
The motto of HSC-28 Detachment TWO is “So Others May Live…Or Die.” Whether as a search and rescue aircraft or a helicopter gunship, DET 2 is a best friend to mariners in distress, worst enemy to those who aim to disrupt maritime security in the regions where we operate. The pride that I feel in being associated with DET 2’s maintenance team, naval aircrewmen, and our pilots is endless. After four and a half months supporting maritime security and contingency operations off the coast of Libya, we have moved southeast, and for the foreseeable future we remain on station…
The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other department, unit, or agency.
Lieutenant Commander Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong, USN, is an active duty MH-60S helicopter pilot who is currently serving as a squadron maintenance officer in Norfolk, VA. He is a frequent contributor to Small Wars Journal, Proceedings and Naval History. He holds a masters degree in military history from Norwich University and was a panelist at the 2010 USNI History Conference “Piracy on the High Seas.”
Good to see the first British pilot making a sea-based take off and landing of the F-35B. Of course (God bless the Ministry of Defence for its logic!) it was an RAF pilot and not a Fleet Air Arm pilot.
Navy/Marine Corps Team: Testing F-35B Lightning II Aircraft Aboard USS Wasp
AT SEA, ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) — Two F-35B Lightning II jets (BF-01 and BF-05) touched down aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) Aug. 12, kicking off week of Development Testing II (DT-II) where Wasp Sailors and Integrated Test Force (ITF) team members are testing and further validating the F-35B.
DT-II is the second of three test phases encompassing numerous milestone events including the first night operation at sea as well as the first launch and recovery of the F-35B at sea by a U.K. test pilot. The goal of this testing is to further define F-35B operating parameters aboard amphibious ships such as Wasp.
The F-35 Lightning II is the next generation strike aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, as well as eight international partners. The jet combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. Wasp is testing the F-35B, which has short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) capability, enabling it to operate from a wider range of ships and in support of expeditionary operations.
“It’s a significant milestone for the F-35 program,” said Capt. Erik Etz, Director, Test & Evaluation F-35 Naval Variants. “We’re providing an envelope that will be utilized by Marine Corps and U.K. aviators when they go out and employ the aircraft in a real environment. The ability to operate at night is critical and so certainly the testing we’re doing here will provide a significant amount of data so we can clear the envelope and clear the aircraft to operate day and night, when the Marine Corps takes the F-35B to initial operating capability in 2015.”
Wasp and the ITF completed a major milestone when Lt. Col. C. R. Clift launched from the flight deck and landed safely, marking the first successful night launch and recovery of the F-35B at sea.
The pilots were pleased with the progress that the first night landings at sea represent. “It all went extremely well,” said Clift. “Throughout the night we conducted eight successful launches and landings, so we’re on target and quickly gaining experience with F-35B night operations at sea.”
Launch and recoveries filled the first, second and third days at sea creating smooth, synchronized daytime operations. Wasp flight deck crew members were trained in advance of DT-II to prepare them for F-35B operations at sea, ensuring all those involved were ready to support DT-II.
“The crew itself has spent quite a bit of time up at Patuxent River working with the F-35B understanding how the aircraft operates,” said Capt. Brian Teets, Wasp’s commanding officer. “What we’ve been able to bring is a consistent platform to the F-35B to support their testing. It’s the same ship with the same capabilities, providing consistency and stability as a reliable test platform. Employing a consistent test platform allows the team to find ways to optimize this new aircraft in the Marine Air Combat Element.”
U.K. Squadron Leader Jim Schofield, a Royal Air Force pilot became the first international pilot to conduct sea-based launch and landing in the F-35B.
“It’s exciting to see the integration of this new plane with the amphibious assault ships,” said Schofield. “After a year leading up to this evolution, it’s awesome to get here and start. And the crew has been especially accommodating and efficient at running these tests smoothly.”
The historical milestones were not lost on Wasp crew members, but for most it was “business as usual”, focusing on safety and effectiveness during flight operations at sea. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Ashley Geary gave the signal to launch BF-05 for the first night flight operations.
“It was fun knowing we’re making history,” said Geary. “We worked with the test team at Patuxent River for a week, learning about the F-35B and its operations. They took our suggestions on flight deck procedures, ensuring we were one team working together towards a successful mission. The launch went well, without a hitch.”
The F-35 Lightning II is scheduled to replace 13 different legacy aircraft in the current U.S. defense inventory. Sea trials for the Navy’s F-35C aircraft carrier variant are scheduled at the end of 2014.
In light of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force launching the “flat top destroyer” Izumo, the Telegraph has produced as list of the world’s largest and most powerful destroyers and aircraft carriers.
The USS Wasp (LHD-1) is the lead vessel in her class of amphibious assault ships. Commissioned into the US Navy in 1989, the Wasp was the first ship to carry the V-22 Osprey and is currently the Navy and Marine Corps platform for testing the F-35B STOVL (replacement for the AV-8B Harrier II).
Having a “spare” flattop to use for operational conversion is a clear sign that you are a superpower. Many navies cannot muster a single aircraft carrier, helicopter carrier or assault ship. This is not a problem that the US Navy faces.
USS Wasp Changes Command
Story Number: NNS130720-05Release Date: 7/20/2013 7:10:00 PM
NORFOLK (NNS) — The crew of amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) held a change of command ceremony in Norfolk, July 18.
Capt. Brian Teets relieved Capt. Gary Boardman as the commanding officer of Wasp in a time honored ceremony held in the hangar bay.
“I would like to thank the crew for their outstanding hard work and dedication throughout my time as commanding officer of Wasp,” said Boardman. “We had a very demanding schedule over the past couple of years, but I was continually impressed by the teamwork and ‘can-do’ attitude displayed by all. This crew has made some real impacts to our nation’s defense and should be very proud of their selfless service.”
Under Boardman’s command, Wasp earned the Battle “E” after participating in exercises and events during 2012 which include: Bold Alligator 2012, Fleet Ex 2012, Defense Support of Civil Authorities after Hurricane Sandy, and Fleet Weeks in New Orleans, Port Everglades, Fla., New York, and Boston. During Boardman’s time aboard Wasp, the ship conducted the first at sea launch and recovery of the highly anticipated F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Boardman will next serve as the chief of staff for Expeditionary Strike Group 2 in Virginia Beach, Va.
Under Teets’ command, Wasp will continue to operate as the test platform for JSF.
“I am extremely honored and humbled to serve as the next commanding officer of this great warship. I would like to thank the officers and crew of Wasp for their continued hard work and commitment,” said Teets. “Because of this outstanding crew, I am confident Wasp’s legacy of excellence will continue as we return her to the combat deployment rotation.”
Teets, a native of Urbana, Ohio, received his commission March 1990 through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Ohio State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Production and Operations Management. His previous assignments include Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 44, HSL-4, HSL-37, and USS Enterprise (CVN 65). Teets reported to Wasp in December 2011 as the executive officer.
Wasp is scheduled to begin a maintenance period while in dry dock this fall after completing an underway for JSF testing.