USS Abraham Lincoln Return Marks End of Second High-Tempo Carrier Deployment in WESTPAC

ABOARD AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, OFF THE COAST OF HAWAII – When aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) pulls into Naval Air Station North Island on Thursday, it will cap off a busy deployment to the Western Pacific. Lincoln’s deployment saw the carrier largely operating in U.S. 7th Fleet, where it had the chance […]

An F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the ‘Black Knights’ of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, flies over USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on July 30, 2022. US Navy Photo

ABOARD AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, OFF THE COAST OF HAWAII – When aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) pulls into Naval Air Station North Island on Thursday, it will cap off a busy deployment to the Western Pacific.

Lincoln’s deployment saw the carrier largely operating in U.S. 7th Fleet, where it had the chance to drill with both Japan and the Philippines ahead of the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise in Hawaii.

It’s the second consecutive high operational tempo aircraft carrier deployment to WESTPAC, as the U.S. Navy increases its emphasis on operating in the region to counter China.

“Our activities into the South China Sea as well as East China Sea were important to send a signal to China, North Korea, Russia of our commitment to the region, as well as our willingness to fly, sail, or operate wherever international law allows,” Rear Adm. J.T. Anderson, the commander of Carrier Strike Group Three, told USNI news in a recent interview.

While the carrier participated in a wide range of exercises, the deployment also marked the first U.S. Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter squadron deployment on an aircraft carrier and the second for the CMV-22B Osprey.

Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, Lincoln’s commanding officer, told USNI News that the crew applied many of the takeaways from USS Carl Vinson‘s (CVN-70) recent deployment in the region to Lincoln’s time in WESTPAC.

“We took onboard a lot of their lessons about … where to base, and how to operate. We did build upon those lessons and learned a few of our own. We were fairly fortunate in that while we covered a vast amount of space in 7th fleet – some days it was a long flight for the CODSPREY – but we were able to remain mostly based out of one location for most of the deployment, which at least facilitated the flow of people and parts to one location,” Bauernschmidt said.

Dynamic Environment

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) sails in formation during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 28, 2022. US Navy Photo

The early days of Lincoln’s deployment saw the carrier operating in the South China Sea – including amid People’s Liberation Army Air Force incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – and the Philippine Sea.

Anderson echoed remarks Vinson crew members made to USNI News during a trip earlier this year to Vinson at the tail-end of its deployment, in which sailors described a more dynamic environment in U.S. 7th Fleet compared to deployments over the last two decades in U.S. Central Command.

“We spent a lot of time maneuvering around not only the Philippine Sea, but also in the South China Sea and well as the East China Sea. And the dynamic maneuver wasn’t just exclusively maneuvering around to avoid certain things, but it was also that that’s our best way of being able to compete in that space, as well as provide a strong presence throughout the region,” Anderson said.
“If we were to just simply maintain our location in one general location, I don’t think we were necessarily doing our job, right, in terms of providing a sustained presence throughout the region.”

Bauernschmidt acknowledged the difference between operations in U.S. 7th Fleet versus U.S. 5th Fleet.

“I would say a vast majority of folks that have deployed in the Navy got very comfortable and used to 5th Fleet operations and this is obviously not 5th Fleet operations. And so it is a much larger area than we would typically operate in and … it’s not just about one entity. It’s about China, Russia, [North] Korea. It’s about multiple different actors and being able to respond to any of those,” she told USNI News.
“Because it’s a large area of operations, being able to strategically place yourself to answer whatever mission we’re called upon is very important.”

Because of the size of the Indo-Pacific region, Bauernschmidt said she had to change how she thought about the carrier’s operations.

“I personally also had to think a little differently about each and every night what the sea space looked like, what we were being tasked with, what we were being asked to accomplish, or to just think ahead about where we may want to position ourselves in the event we were tasked with a different mission,” she said.
“Because unlike operations in the 5th Fleet that you can get where you needed to be in a half a day, in a fairly short amount of time, we have a lot more sea space to cover. And so being able to think strategically, position yourself where you need to be, understand the constraints and the restraints of ourselves, our aircraft, and other forces was important.” 

Lessons Learned from Vinson

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the ‘Tophatters’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14, prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on June 3, 2022. US Navy Photo

Lincoln’s deployment to the western Pacific followed a similar one last year by Vinson, which sent the first U.S. Navy F-35C squadron and CMV-22B Osprey squadron out to sea. Lincoln deployed with 10 Marine Corps F-35Cs that make up the “Black Knights” of Marine Strike Fighter Squadron (VMFA) 314 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

Ahead of the deployment, Bauernschmidt said Lincoln had the authority to install a double-decker mezzanine at the back of the hangar bay.

“What that allowed us to do was get some of the material that was normally in hangar bay 3 up into that mezzanine,” she said.

“We also took a good look at all of the support equipment and really tried to optimize where maybe we had duplicates, or we had the ability to truly ensure that the support equipment for the aircraft that we had was the right quantity, the right number, and the right ability,” Bauernschmidt added.

Instead of basing out of the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, like Vinson’s CMV-22B Osprey detachment, Lincoln’s detachment was based out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. This helped with parts and maintenance because the U.S. Marine Corps’s MV-22B Ospreys were also at Futenma.

“It is always helpful when there’s extra bodies, extra parts. So there was a little bit easier flow because there was already an established flow for most of their parts,” Bauernschmidt said.

Cmdr. Daniel Hutton, an aircraft intermediate maintenance department officer aboard Lincoln, said the carrier’s crew used takeaways from the Vinson deployment to tweak what equipment Lincoln brought. This allowed the crew to make more space in the hangar bay and be more strategic with what equipment it needed or did not need. As a result, the crew placed more gear in hangar bay 3, which made for more space in the middle of the carrier and in the forward part of the ship.

“Being the second air wing ship team to go out to sea with that type of aircraft, there’s a constant learning process that takes place between the ship, the supporting entities ashore, and then being able to adjust and take into account what things break,” Hutton told USNI News.

Hutton said they will continue to make tweaks depending on what happens throughout the deployment.

Since Vinson‘s crew had the chance to test out the deck density aboard the carrier with the Navy F-35Cs and the CMV-22B Ospreys, Lincoln could take those lessons and alter what they brought to sea. As a result, Bauernschmidt said Lincoln decreased its deck density.

An CMV-22B Osprey, carrying the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Hon. Rahm Emanuel, Japan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hayashi Yoshima, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, Commander, Navy Region Japan/Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. Carl Lahti, lands on Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi following an official visit, to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on April 23, 2022. US Navy Photo

“Because we had a lot of Vinson’s lessons learned, we were able to sit down and take a very thoughtful look at how we were utilizing space in the hangar bay to try to ensure that we didn’t have anything we didn’t need, but we did have everything that we were going to need so that it opened up extra space for aircraft and a little bit of extra maneuver space to maneuver them around,” she said.
“And we got our deck density down quite a bit from where Vinson was and into a pretty good place. And then we were still able to provide a little bit more feedback for follow on carriers so that they can learn from what we kind of figured out as well.”

Bauernschmidt said she also took advice from Vinson‘s commanding officer about how to perform replenishments at sea to maximize the carrier’s ability to respond to missions if necessary.

“He talked about some of the pluses and minuses with different locations – impacts of sea space, or how flight operations worked. We try to ensure that we were postured very well to be able to react to anything that we needed to react, like we do every day,” Bauernschmidt said. “But when you’re alongside another ship, we were very careful about planning it so that we were – several times we launched aircraft while we were alongside replenishing to be able to respond as necessary and then we were able to continue about the mission.”

F-35C Operations

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Justin Mancha, from San Antonio, signals an F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the ‘Black Knights’ of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, as it takes off from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on July 14, 2022. US Navy Photo

After employing the Navy and Marine Corps F-35Cs at sea, officials aboard both Vinson and Lincoln say they want more of the aircraft operating within a carrier strike group.

Anderson, when asked why he would like more F-35Cs, pointed to the fighter’s sensing capabilities. Both Bauernschmidt and Anderson described “seamless” integration of the F-35Cs into the carrier air wing.

“It’s the tremendous capability that the aircraft provides from an ability to generate information, the sensors that it has onboard, as well as its ability to distribute that information, not just to other aircraft but to the rest of the force,” Anderson told USNI News.
“It’s a testament to the platform and the folks that fly it too that it can integrate so well in with the rest of the air wing. We don’t have to do unique things with the schedule, the cycle lengths, etc. in order to accommodate it.”

Despite concerns ahead of the first F-35C deployments, Bauernschmidt said at-sea operations disproved some of those worries.

“I think like any new platform that’s introduced, there’s a little bit of angst about how it’s going to go. And I think what ended up happening when we got them was the realization that it was again a fairly seamless integration, regardless of whether it was Marine Corps or Navy,” she said.
“But I think in terms of the noise and some of the things they were concerned about from whether it was a deck density standpoint, or parts availability, or maintenance that they were going to be required to do, I think there were a lot more concerns that were fairly unfounded once, you know, now that we’ve gotten through this deployment [and] we’ve been able to see and operate with them.”

RIMPAC 2022 Sets Stage for Interoperability with U.S., Allies

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, HAWAII – If deterring China in the Pacific is a team sport, it might resemble a pickup basketball game more than the NBA. The allied bonds in the Pacific are less rigid than the coalition that makes up NATO in the Atlantic. The complicated web of relationships across the region […]

Mexican Naval Infantry Marines storm the beach after arriving on combat rubber raiding craft during an amphibious raid for a multinational littoral operations exercise as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022. Royal New Zealand Air Force Photo

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, HAWAII – If deterring China in the Pacific is a team sport, it might resemble a pickup basketball game more than the NBA.

The allied bonds in the Pacific are less rigid than the coalition that makes up NATO in the Atlantic. The complicated web of relationships across the region requires looser coalitions – like the Quad relationship between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India – instead of the structure the U.S. enjoys with its European allies in NATO.

At this year’s Rim of the Pacific 2022 naval exercise, U.S. Navy and partner nation officials described the drills as an effort to make operations between participating countries easier, with a focus on communication.

“We’re going to have to someday plugin as one unit, and whether that’s in a humanitarian assistance or disaster response or if it’s in a high-end fight, we need to be able to come together because no one of us is strong enough to tackle any of those problems, whether it’s HADR or a high-end fight,” Vice Adm. Michael Boyle, the commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet, told USNI News in a recent interview.

In addition to learning how each other’s systems and platforms work, nations attending RIMPAC had the chance for their staffs to work with those from other countries.

“Knowing how people work together, how they react, speeds up that interoperability and that capability and where it matters the most is the unexpected,” Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. Christopher Robinson, the deputy commander of RIMPAC, told USNI News.

“[If] an earthquake happens and you assemble a task group and every country comes together and they send their ready use forces, knowing that we’re going to establish initial [communications] on these radios and we’re going to use no call signs or call signs, and we’re going to get together twice a day at certain times and talk, once you’ve established all those really basic common understandings, then you can get to actually achieving the mission.”

Interchangeability

Personnel from the Australian Army, Malaysian Army Paratroopers and Sri Lanka Marine Corps form up on the flight deck of Royal Australian Navy Canberra-class landing helicopter dock HMAS Canberra (L02) in preparation for an air assault amphibious raid during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on Aug. 1, 2022. Royal Australian Navy Photo

Boyle, who took the helm of 3rd Fleet in June and was the commander of RIMPAC 2022, described a need to push forward past interoperability to achieve interchangeability with allies and partners.

“I tell people that for interchangeability, [it’s] kind of the nexus, the intersection of national objective overlap and interoperability, which is the ability to talk to each other and to work together and to communicate and have tactics that are comparable and complementary,” he said.

When it comes to policy, the United States probably won’t align with a given partner or allied nation on all policy areas, Boyle said. He pointed to a Taiwan Strait transit as an example – performing one may not be in another country’s best interest, but conducting joint operations in the South China Sea could be a better option.

“My argument for interchangeability is that if we try to drive interoperability from the bottom up, from the tactical level up, what always seems to happen in my view … is we run into policy barriers,” he said.

“What seems to work better from my perspective is if we first figure out where our national objectives overlap, then we drive into that space and we have the weight and the leverage of our national command authority,” Boyle added.
“So if it’s important to the nation, then it’s easier to break down the barriers when you can say, ‘hey I really need to get foreign disclosures … for country X because it’s going to enable me to do this thing, which is our national objective. It’s also there’s.’ So it’s win win win. We get interoperability. They take care of their thing. We take care of our thing. And then we drive to the next country or group of countries. You know – multilateral is always better for us – and see where we can find overlapping objectives.”

Working Together 

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) sails in formation during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on July 28. US Navy Photo

RIMPAC 2022 allowed the U.S. and participating nations the chance to rehearse specific scenarios, like an amphibious landing and humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts, and hone the communications needed to perform those types of operations.

During a USNI News trip aboard Royal Australian Navy amphibious ship HMAS Canberra (L02), two U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Ospreys from the “Lucky Red Lions” of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363 were parked on the flight deck. Those aircraft remained embarked with Canberra for all of RIMPAC’s at-sea period.

Capt. Jace Hutchison, the commanding officer of Canberra, said this year’s iteration of RIMPAC allowed the RAN to improve upon the lessons learned in 2016, when it began working toward interoperability with the U.S.

“We have developed a lot since 2016. What happened in 2016 was some initial interoperability testing between, in particular U.S. aircraft and Australian amphibious platform[s]. What we’ve been able to do in RIMPAC 2022 is actually take that to the next level,” Hutchison said.

“It’s an opportunity for us to now develop, in an enduring manner, while having two U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 aircraft embarked for the entire sea phase. That’s something that’s not happened before in an Australian context. And we’re really looking forward to expanding the way that we operate those aircraft within the constraints of our platform.”

In addition to having the U.S. Marine Corps Ospreys, Canberra also cross-decked with U.S. aircraft like the Marine Corps CH-53 Sea Stallion and Japanese aircraft, and had the authorities necessary to cross deck with any nation taking part in RIMPAC that brought aircraft to the exercise, Jace said.

Learning how to communicate with each other during those operations was a top priority for the RAN during RIMPAC, said Lt. Samuel Laidlaw, a flight control officer aboard Canberra.

“I think whenever we do international operations, the most challenging thing tends to be communications. So it can be really little things, like it can be some small differences in the way that we refer to the same thing. So understanding those differences,” Laidlaw told reporters in Canberra‘s flight control office.

“We do briefs beforehand. Before any aircraft come across here, we will endeavor to sit down to do a face-to-face brief with them. If we can’t do that. We have a PowerPoint presentation that we put together where we try and spell out all those little differences.”

For example, the U.S. Marine Corps uses magnetic north in operations, while the RAN uses true north. This meant that when the CH-53s flew out to Canberra, the location for where the ship was pointed was 10 degrees off.

“We were giving them to that in true, and they were expecting it in magnetics. There was a bit of a mismatch there,” Laidlaw said.

In addition to communications, obtaining a clear operational picture is key to conducting any missions with allies and partners.

“How do we ensure that this ship from ‘X’ country and this ship from ‘Y’ country are looking at the same picture, that way decisions can be made,” Capt. Dan Brown, the experimentation lead with U.S. 3rd Fleet, told USNI News.

“At the end of the day your commanders always want to be able to sense the battlespace that they’re assigned to and then ultimately [that] allows them to make decisions on what they want to do. And if we’re not all working off the same sheet of music, it’s going to be tough. So that experiment is pretty high visibility at this RIMPAC.”

Part of ensuring ships from different countries can communicate is testing out the Link 22 tactical data link system, which several participating nations – including the U.S., France, Chile and Canada – use.

“Tactical data links sound like they work together seamlessly. But it’s kind of like when you take your … iPhone, and you wander and you grab free WiFi from place to place to place and you still have to login, and sometimes you got to go to a homepage,” Robinson, the Canadian admiral, told USNI News. “Link systems are the same. They should connect seamlessly, but if you haven’t worked with those particular ships, it’s something to work through – making sure you’re all on the same crypto, that you’re changing at the same time, that control frequencies” are the same.

Future Operations

HMAS Canberra (L02), during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, Aug. 1, 2022. US Navy Photo

For the Australians, RIMPAC is helping them understand what they can do with U.S. aircraft aboard Canberra, including whether they could deploy U.S. aircraft aboard an Australian ship in the future, akin to the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters that deployed last year aboard United Kingdom aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08).

Jace, the CO of Canberra, said U.S. Marine Rotational Force – Darwin aircraft could embark aboard Australian ships when they’re forward deployed.

“[Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief] is something that Australia does regularly and if we’ve got MRF-D In Australia operating then that’s a perfect partnership to take out into those regional areas and support as a collective,” he said.

Canada’s Robinson acknowledged that more multi-national carrier strike group deployments like the Queen Elizabeth CSG in 2021 – which included RCN frigate HCMS Winnipeg (FFH 338) – could happen. But Robinson said he believed ad hoc naval coalitions are more likely the way maritime nations will operate together.

“I kind of think that shorter groupings – so bringing task groups together for shorter groupings of time and then ships come and go as their national taskings changed – is going to be the way of the future,” Robinson told USNI News.

Boyle said working with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific – like the United Nations-led Enforcement Coordination Cell for sanctions on North Korea – in particular, is key to deterring China.

“Continuing to make it apparent that they can’t win is the long-term objective and that way we’ll never have to go to war,” Boyle said.
“And man, if we can do it with partners, when they look out and see the ECC … and see Germany, Canada, France, the U.S., Korea all working together right off their coast, then it’s got to be like, ‘our only friend right now is Russia.’ And it’s not really a very good friend, from a China perspective.”

U.S. 3rd Fleet Expanding Operational Role in Indo-Pacific

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII –The U.S. 3rd Fleet is expanding its operational role in the Indo-Pacific as the dynamics in the region are growing more complex, the new fleet commander told USNI News. In a recent interview in Hawaii, Vice Adm. Michael Boyle described the changes U.S. 3rd Fleet has made in recent years […]

Vice Adm. Michael E. Boyle, Commander, 3rd Fleet, and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Muller, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 MQ-9 detachment mission commander, shake hands as Boyle departs the MQ-9 operations center during RIMPAC, July 29, 2022. US Air Force Photo

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII –The U.S. 3rd Fleet is expanding its operational role in the Indo-Pacific as the dynamics in the region are growing more complex, the new fleet commander told USNI News.

In a recent interview in Hawaii, Vice Adm. Michael Boyle described the changes U.S. 3rd Fleet has made in recent years and how he views the operating picture in the region.

“Five, six years ago, 3rd Fleet was a headquarters that did mostly [certifications] and we played in exercises. Now, we are an actual operational headquarters that has a watch that’s currently stood up in Point Loma,” Boyle told USNI News.
“They are managing the space from the international dateline back to the coast. And so all the operations that are happening in there – if the Russians were to send submarines or ships, they would be tracking those from an intelligence standpoint, from posturing the force.”

Boyle, who took the helm of 3rd Fleet in June after serving as the maritime operations director for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said his command could act as a maneuver arm of PACFLEET or operate forward when U.S. 7th Fleet is tied up with other tasking.

“We also have been tasked to practice, be prepared to rehearse, be able to operate as a maritime operations center forward. So we have plans over the next couple of years to do expeditionary command and control, either from ships, or from Australia or the Philippines, … you name it,” he said.

“If we needed to put a command and control facility forward, we might have to do that. And that might be because 7th Fleet’s busy doing something else and an earthquake happens over here and we need a task force to go down and command and control the effort,” Boyle added. “And so 3rd Fleet might be the perfect ones to do a Philippine disaster relief because Russia’s getting uppity. And so 7th Fleet’s focused on Russia and 3rd fleet does something else. Or we plug into the larger PACFLEET as half of his maneuver force.”

Boyle said U.S. forces in the region need both the infrastructure in place to continuously work with allies and partners and for staff to move away from functioning as if it’s peacetime.

“In the Pacific, we do a lot of practicing for a war that might happen five years from now, 10 years from now, 30 years from now. But we’re not in a hot war. And so our headquarters are kind of structured to be peacetime headquarters. And that has changed over the last couple of years,” Boyle said.

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) sails in formation during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 28, 2022. US Navy Photo

While the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise gives the U.S. and partner nations the chance to drill together, Boyle argued the infrastructure must remain in place so nations are prepared to respond to events and conflicts in the region. The 3rd Fleet commander, who also leads RIMPAC, pointed to the combined task force U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Samuel Paparo has ordered his staff stand up in the region and compared it to the Combined Maritime Forces operating in U.S. 5th Fleet.

“If we do that, we will then have long-range predictive intelligence, long-range plans, future operations, current operations – all of the things that a staff does,” Boyle said.

“And it will give all of these countries that come to RIMPAC a place to plug into day to day to rehearse as a combined force, where our objectives overlap … as opposed to, hey every two years we’re going to build a fake structure and we’re going to have 3rd Fleet run it. And then we’re going to disband it. And then we’ll build it again two years later. And then we’ll disband it,” he continued.

Earlier this year, Paparo said U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino ordered PACFLEET to operate with Japan as a defacto task force in the region.

Having the infrastructure in place with the combined force would allow the United States to move outside the Western Pacific and do more operations in places near Pacific Island Nations or the Aleutian Islands, Boyle argued.

“Because right now, we’re so concentrated – we the United States – in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, ballistic missile defense of Japan, of Guam. It’s hard for us to get down into the Pacific Island Nations. It’s hard for us to get over to the Indian Ocean. It’s hard for us to get up to the Aleutians,” Boyle said.

“But if I had combined force, that we were counting on, planning for to execute seamlessly in those areas, then we could spread the field and present a much more robust overmatch to our competitors, which ultimately then gets us to the spot [where] we want to be, which is every day a competitor wakes up, looks out his front porch and says, ‘Today’s not the day.’ We really believe that China will not start a fight unless they think they can win. It’s just their culture.”

A combined task force could make it so that the U.S., allies and partners can come together for the types of exercises the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force have been conducting more of in the Indo-Pacific over the last year.

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) sails behind Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11) prior to a replenishment-at-sea during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on July 20, 2022. US Navy Photo

Canadian Rear Adm. Christopher Robinson, the deputy commander of RIMPAC 2022, told USNI News he thinks ad-hoc naval task forces coming together for drills and operations will happen more often.

“I kind of think that shorter groupings – so bringing task groups together for shorter groupings of time and then ships come and go as their national taskings changed – is going to be the way of the future,” he told USNI News.

While deployments like the 2021 United Kingdom-led Queen Elizabeth (R08) multi-national carrier strike group will continue, Robinson emphasized the need for more impromptu groupings.

“Large deployments like that will always happen. They take a lot of planning. They take a lot of forethought and resource commitment,” he said.

“But there are always ships in area and figuring out how you can make a task group like that task group, but made up of a Canadian ship that’s passing through and has a month to spare, and an Australian ship that has five weeks to spare, and a Japanese ship that is in the area for maybe three months and how you make those task groups work together, make this the real … future success,” Robinson added.

ITS Carvour (CVH550) and Queen Elizabeth (R08) sailing together for the F-35 interoperability exercise in the Mediterranean. Italian Navy Photo

Boyle pointed to drills in the Philippine Sea last October, when the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, the Carl Vinson CSG, the Queen Elizabeth CSG, and Japan’s helicopter destroyer JS Ise (DDH-182) exercised together, as an example of those ad-hoc task groups.

“We told the Japanese three days prior to that photo ex … and they said yes, which is – we all were all a little bit ‘wow.’ The Japanese said, ‘yes, we can support three days from now. We will move Ise into position,'” he said.

“Two years ago, five years ago … they would have been very hesitant. But now forces are more ready to come together,” Boyle continued.

Senate Confirms First Black Marine For Fourth Star to Lead U.S. Africa Command

The Senate on Monday approved the promotion of Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Langley to the rank of general, which will make him the first Black Marine to receive a fourth star. Langley will lead U.S. Africa Command, the Stuttgart, Germany-based combatant command. Langley will formally receive his fourth star at a ceremony this Saturday […]

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Langley delivers a speech aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), during the Fleet Week New York reception ceremony in the hangar bay, May 25, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

The Senate on Monday approved the promotion of Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Langley to the rank of general, which will make him the first Black Marine to receive a fourth star.

Langley will lead U.S. Africa Command, the Stuttgart, Germany-based combatant command.

Langley will formally receive his fourth star at a ceremony this Saturday in Washington, D.C., according to a Tuesday news release from the Marine Corps.

In his role leading AFRICOM, Langley will oversee operations in Somalia and support for West Africa forces countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Langley has been the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command and Marine Corps Forces Northern Command, in addition to serving as the commanding general of Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, since November.

He is a career artillery officer who commissioned into the Marine Corps in 1985.

“Langley has commanded Marines at every level from platoon to regiment, serving in Okinawa, Japan and Afghanistan,” the service said in the news release.

“As a general officer, Langley has held billets including deputy commanding general for II Marine Expeditionary Force, commanding general for [2nd] Marine Expeditionary Brigade, commander for Marine Forces Europe and Africa, deputy commanding general for Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, and deputy commander for Marine Forces Command and Marine Forces Northern Command,” the release continued.

The Pentagon announced Langley’s nomination to lead AFRICOM in June.

“Langley’s promotion will mark the first time a Black Marine has served as a four-star general in the 246-year history of the Marine Corps,” the Marine Corps said in the Tuesday release.

Seven Black Marines have previously reached the rank of lieutenant general.

Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, who has led AFRICOM since July of 2019, is slated to retire.

RIMPAC Testing Will Inform the Fate of Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle

The manned-unmanned teaming experimentation currently underway at the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise will help the Navy decide the future of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle, a service official told reporters on Monday. Speaking to reporters virtually, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, noted that the […]

Medium displacement unmanned surface vessels Seahawk, front, and Sea Hunter launch for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21), April 20, 2021. US Navy Photo

The manned-unmanned teaming experimentation currently underway at the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise will help the Navy decide the future of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle, a service official told reporters on Monday.

Speaking to reporters virtually, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, noted that the Fiscal Year 2023 budget request did not include plans to buy more MUSV prototypes.

“Whether or not we will buy more MUSVs will be certainly informed by what we’re learning at RIMPAC. When we’ll decide that will be kind of when we’re ready to decide that. And I think even the CNO certainly has even commented on publicly about this discussion about what’s the best path in terms of MUSVs or smaller USVs, or those kinds of things, which I believe is a completely healthy conversation,” Moton said, referring to comments Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday made earlier this year.

While L3 Technologies is currently building a MUSV prototype, Gilday in April said the service is rethinking what it needs, including potentially the number of MUSVs, after seeing the experimentation U.S. 5th Fleet has been performing with smaller unmanned systems under the Combined Task Force 59 effort.

The Navy still plans to purchase the first Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV) in FY 2025, Moton said on Monday.

“We are maturing all of the systems engineering pillars to get to the right level of technical maturity and we will achieve certification – which will include the senior technical authority – looking at that and our key technology areas: has the specific requirements for the land-based testing, for the machinery plant in particular, and other technical areas. So at its most fundamental level the program office is using this as [is] sort of a piece of its plan to get to those certification points and that transition to LUSV,” Moton said.

With four USV prototypes under the helm of the recently created Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, the Navy is pairing the platforms with destroyers at RIMPAC to experiment with and better understand how the four USVs all work in conjunction with manned warships. The New USVDIV command will serve as the bridge between the program office and the fleet for that feedback, USNI News previously reported.

The USVs operating at RIMPAC include Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships Nomad and Ranger, which were originally developed by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. Sea Hunter, which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and its sister ship, Seahawk, are also taking part in the exercise. Sea Hunter and Seahawk are considered medium-sized USVs.

While it’s not the first time the Navy has paired the USVs with manned warships, it’s the first time all four USVs are participating in the same exercise, USNI News previously reported.

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) sails in the Gulf of Aqaba off of Jordan’s coast, Dec. 12, 2021.US Army Photo

“It puts a different level of stress on it though because now I don’t just have one USV and a whole dedicated engineering staff just for that and fleet operators … But it puts a level of stress on not just the systems themselves, but the support behind it, right. So it’s not everyone’s focused on one thing. There’s four different things going on at the same time … and it’s a lot of the same people,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, the principal assistant program manager for USV’s at the Naval Sea Systems Command’s unmanned maritime systems program office, or PMS 406.

Moton described the RIMPAC testing as the “initial step in ramping up the scaling” of USV operations with the fleet.

The exercise paired a single USV with a single destroyer that had a crew embarked aboard to manage the unmanned asset. But the plan is to keep scaling up as the Navy develops the concept of operations for the USVs.

“The CONOPS are not one USV with one surface combatant. It’s multiple USVs with a surface combatant,” Fitzpatrick said.

“That’s a scaling point that we didn’t do at RIMPAC. We had one USV assigned to one surface combatant. But those are steps. And then we’re going to continue to grow that and then continue to put in future exercises we’ll have multiple USVs with one surface combatant, and then maybe multiple USVs tied with multiple surface combatants,” he continued. “So two and two or two and three. Those are things that were in the future CONOPs we’ve identified we need to go to. So we’re going to go do those. But again, steps to scale to where we need to get to.”

During RIMPAC, the Navy had the chance to react in real-time to unplanned events, service officials said. At one point before a planned mission in the exercise, a destroyer had to drop out due to an issue officials declined to detail. That meant control of the USV had to switch to the shore-based unmanned operations center in San Diego, Calif.

Officials did not say which USV nor which destroyer experienced the change in plans, but said it provided the fleet with the change to learn how to react to events it can’t control.

“The other thing that I suspect it probably did is it’s just one more thing to help build trust with the fleet. So if there’s an off nominal condition and we show the ability to take control, to move control off that vessel, to have the [unmanned operations center] perform its role, then that just gives the fleet more confidence in how the platforms going to react, how the USVDIV is going to react. It will give more confidence, frankly probably up to the numbered fleet commander,” Moton said.

Fitzpatrick described the process of switching the controls to the shore-based UOC as “seamless.”

“That is the really the longest part – it’s just the coordination and getting the people there. But again in an operational standpoint, using the common control system … it’s a few clicks on a screen,” he said.
“You have to relinquish control and then gather control over it.”

Large unmanned surface vessel Ranger departs Pearl Harbor to begin the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11., 2022. US Navy Photo

Capt. Scot Searles, the program manager for unmanned maritime systems, described the process as no different from when a manned ship starts reporting to another task group commander.

“It really is nothing more on the ship than making a report to say, ‘I’ve now left that commander and I’m now reporting to the new commander.’ But there’s a whole lot leading up to that … to make that sure everybody’s ready for that, so it’s the coordination piece of it that takes the longest,” Searles said. “But I think from our perspective what we learned is that’s a normal expected off-nominal operation that all ships of the fleet are expected to be able to do seamlessly. And planned or unplanned, we were able to do it.”

The Navy did multiple planned transfers from a ship-based command of the USVs to a shore-based one, in addition to the one or two unplanned transfers, Searles said.

With four payloads at RIMPAC – including electronic warfare and anti-submarine warfare payloads – Fitzpatrick said feedback from the fleet has focused on getting more advanced and an increased quantity of payloads instead of the autonomy side.

“That’s one of the biggest feedbacks we’re getting initially. They’re talking about payloads. They’re talking about capabilities,” he said. “They’re not worried that it’s going to go run into something.”

“They want to take Sea Hunter and an Overlord – which were developed under two different programs and have two different comms suites – and we’re working to bring them together. But they really want to do that. They want to say, ‘we want Sea Hunter and an Overlord with different payloads onboard, to be controlled from the same platform,” Fitzpatrick added.

The payloads have largely come from existing programs that the Office of Naval Research has altered so they could operate from an autonomous or unmanned platform.

“That’s the angle, right, is really trying to use existing technologies and make them work without people. And that’s the angle that allows us to rapidly get newer capabilities out there, to test them on all of the prototypes to inform the future requirements,” Fitzpatrick said.

Meanwhile, the Navy last week announced that its Unmanned Influence Sweep System, or UISS, reached initial operating capability, making it the first USV to hit that acquisition benchmark.

Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle, arrives at Pearl Harbor to participate in the Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on June 29, 2022. US Navy Photo

Moton noted that while the mission for UISS – which would pair with a Littoral Combat Ship or potentially other ships for the mine countermeasures mission – is different from that of the USVs the Navy is experimenting with at RIMPAC, it inches the Navy toward the future fleet of manned and unmanned platforms.

“Clearly it’s got a different mission, it’s under sort of local control of that asset that it’s operating from, whether that’s an LCS or a vessel of opportunity, or from the pier. It’s a different autonomy problem. It’s executing a mine warfare mission. It’s kind of going out and executing a traditional mine warfare sort of sweep of the area,” Moton said.

“It’s still the first time a fleet asset is going to be operating, is going to have to have trust in the autonomy, unmanned system trust in how it’s going to handle if there’s something that happens in the mission, whether it’s a mechanical thing or something else. So there are many reasons that it’s important in the broader push to hybrid man-unmanned,” he added.

After declaring IOC, the Navy will next head into the initial operational test and evaluation phase for the MCM mission package system once FY 2023 ends, according to Moton.

“Having [UISS] IOC – which means it’s through test, which means we have numbers fielded which means we have trained crews, which mean we have logistics set up, all of which makes IOC so important – it’s just a huge milestone to get that done for our first surface MCM platform,” Moton said.

Marines Pitching Service as Western Pacific Recon Asset for Combined Joint Force

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military. The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines […]

Marine Corps Cpl. Alexander Tran, intelligence specialist with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, launches a RQ-20B Puma at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military.

The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines would have the capabilities needed to deploy for missions in the region.

In a recent interview with USNI News, Col. Stephen Fiscus, the assistant chief of staff for force development at Marine Corps Forces Pacific, described the vision for SIF as having nearly all of the service’s force laydown in the Indo-Pacific acting as the reconnaissance arm for the combined joint force.

“To be inside and to be able to understand and report on what the enemy is doing, basically to be able to … the wonky way of describing it is the ability to gain and maintain custody of high-value targets and hold them at risk, with our own resources or joint force resources,” Fiscus said.

“[Special Operations Forces] has the capability to do that, but certainly the Marine Corps has the capability to do that at much greater scale, and with much greater persistence. SOF can’t do it at scale and at the capacity that we can,” he added.

The Marines argue that because they’re already operating in places like Okinawa, Japan, part of the first island chain that is in the range of Chinese weapons, they are in the position to perform the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance missions in a potential conflict.

“As part of the Stand-in Force, what that really means to the [Marine Littoral Regiment] is, we look at it to deter malign behavior, to operate inside the enemy’s weapons engagement zone, to support sea control and sea denial operations and then ultimately … to set the conditions for joint force and combined follow-on actions as part of that Stand-in Force,” Col. Timothy Brady, the commanding officer of the recently re-designated 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, told USNI News.

While the new 3rd MLR is a piece of the Stand-In Force, the concept would employ most of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force and the Marine Expeditionary Units embarked on the Navy’s amphibious ships and operating in the Pacific.

“The Stand-in Force … pretty much requires almost all of III MEF, elements of I MEF, and the transiting MEUs in order to make it fully capable. It requires almost all of the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]-assigned force. And the infrastructure from Marine Corps Installations Pacific that enables that is pretty key to that as well. So it requires all of it. So to focus on just, on one entity is kind of missing the totality. The whole MAGTF, or Marine Air-Ground Task Force concept, is applicable to the Stand-in-Force,” Fiscus said.

The ability to see and realize information, Fiscus said, is the cornerstone of delivering the type of lethality the Marine Corps is historically known for bringing to conflict.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion 76 assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5, prepares to land on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“It’s understanding what your target is, where it is, and the effect that it’s going to have on the network that you’re influencing. You can translate that directly from what we were doing in counter-insurgency operations with the effect on an insurgent network, all the way down to a peer and pacing threat,” he said.

“And what’s going to happen when you take this asset out? It’s fairly easy to be lethal, to pull a trigger – whether that trigger is the 566 from a rifle or all the way up to using a Naval Strike Missile or a [Tomahawk Land Attack Missile], or some other huge asset and you’re targeting a capital asset. The need is to understand what you’re doing and understand immediately what’s going to happen. And that’s what Stand-in Forces bring, is they bring that whole package to the naval expeditionary force that really closes a pretty significant gap,” Fiscus continued.

3rd MLR Experimentation

U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, post security during a field training exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 30, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

After converting the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in March, Brady says they now have the relevant units in place to do full-scale experimentation.

The MLR consists of a Littoral Combat Team, a Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. In June, the Marine Corps converted 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines into the 3rd MLR’s Littoral Combat Team and also re-designated Combat Logistics Battalion 3 into the Littoral Logistics Battalion that is now under the 3rd MLR, Brady said. That means the 3rd MLR now has all three units operating under the new construct.

“This provides us the opportunity – as we continue to train and experiment moving forward – with all of the primary capabilities now being organic to the MLR, to be able to develop our concepts of employment for our future Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Brady said.
“Because it will take portions of all those different units to provide the capabilities necessary to be able to do the sea control and sea denial operations, to be able to provide the long-range precision fires, to be able to provide the air direction, air control early warning activities, to be able to provide the sensors necessary to the joint force,” he continued. “It will take an aspect of each one of those battalions to be able to actually produce the capability for it in the battlespace. So for the very first time, we have all of those capabilities as part of this unit and that’s what we’re looking forward to training in the future with.”

The Hawaiian islands, where the 3rd MLR is based, are uniquely suited to experiment with the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept – which would see Marines quickly moving between islands and shorelines to set up ad-hoc bases and fire anti-ship missiles – because they are similar to the first island chain, Brady said.

“To EABO in and of itself – to be able to seize and secure key maritime terrain – is not anything new to the Marine Corps. But the purpose of EABO is a paradigm shift. The purpose now is once we do seize and secure that maritime terrain is to look outward, right, to be able to support the naval expeditionary campaign and the larger naval campaign with that battlespace awareness … along with those long-range precision fires,” Brady said.

During the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise, the Marine Corps is employing the EABO concept in two different scenarios: to enable an amphibious landing and to enable the transit of a carrier strike group.

“So specifically to RIMPAC, having an amphibious task force as well as a carrier strike group operating in the notional operating environment, we are supporting their maritime maneuver. And ultimately the MLR helps the joint and combined force achieve multi-domain integrated naval power to be able to impose asymmetric threats on the enemy,” Brady said.

Digital Interoperability

A Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra participates in a sink exercise (SINKEX) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Brady described a layered approach to how his unit is working toward operating with the joint force and ultimately allies and partners, also known as the combined force, which the Marines have the chance to work with at RIMPAC.

But working across the various platforms means they need what the Marines have defined as digital interoperability, or a way for all of the systems from the different U.S. services and other nations’ forces to communicate with each other.

“As we build those kill webs, that digital interoperability, you know the communications and the [command and control] systems, and we’re actually applying all those sensors and eventually the long-range precision fires, is we’re doing that internally to that Stand-in Force, the MAGTF, right, the Marine Corps,” Brady said.

“At the next level we’re really doing that across the joint force and looking at how to do that better. And then what RIMPAC provides us the opportunity to do is to do that with the combined force, right, the allies and partners, because to close those kill webs requires a lot of digital interoperability across multiple different systems, to be able to do it at speed and to be able to do it with all those nations that will be together inside the first island chain,” he continued.

In the type of conflict environment the services are preparing for in the Indo-Pacific, forces need multiple avenues to share information.

“If one type of way form is shut down and we can’t use it, there needs to be other pathways that we can take advantage of to move that information along, again, to generate that tempo for the commander so he can make a timely and accurate decision,” said Maj. Adrian Solis, a fires expert at MARFORPAC.

Future Capabilities

A Marine with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, triages a victim during a simulated mass casualty evacuation training event at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

While Fiscus said the Marine Corps has what it needs to communicate with various assets across the joint force to share targeting information and execute missions under the Stand-in Forces concept, he said the Marines need more of the platforms they’re currently experimenting with – like the MQ-9A Reaper used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“A lot of our platforms right now, we have one or two of them. And we have a plan to get more, but we have one or two of them. So we’re fairly finite,” he said.

The service also wants to make some of their capabilities and assets lighter so Marines can move quickly and carry what they need on their backs while moving around islands and shorelines.

“Making them small, deployable forward and getting them out to where [Brady] can access them and tactical commanders can fuse all of those systems is a big part of the experimentation in the systems that we’re doing. We have answers that say yes, we can do that. We can see them. We can put them together,” Fiscus said.

“Doing it sustainably and in austere environments and amidst allies and partners – because remember, we’re standing in, chances are we’re standing in next to somebody. All of the allies and partners that we’re sailing with that he’s working with right now, they by nature of where they’re located are standing in too. So we anticipate being with them on their terrain,” he added.

With IOC a year away, Brady and Fiscus said they’re focused on getting more capabilities to experiment with, like the stern landing vessel the Marine Corps wants to use while the service continues developing the Light Amphibious Warship. LAW is meant to have a beachable capability to shuttle Marines directly to islands and shorelines without needing to pull into a pier and a leased stern landing vessel will allow the Marine Corps to experiment with the capability in the interim.

I MEF in southern California will start the experimentation with the stern landing vessel, and then it will head to Hawaii. Fiscus said the 3rd MLR should have the platform within a year.

The service also now has a platoon of several dozen Marines who will do research and development work in Norfolk, Va., on the service’s future Long Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle, or LRUSV, Brady said.

“The Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vessel … that’s something that will provide additional reach and availability of weapons and systems well out into the maritime domain,” Brady said. “All of those things are coming in the next couple of years that will further enable us to provide additional capabilities to the joint and combined force.”

Metal Shark is on contract to build several LRUSV prototypes for the Marine Corps through an other transaction authority agreement, the company announced in January 2021.

While the Marine Corps first envisioned the LRUSV to function as an ISR platform and a way to bring more fires to the fight, Fiscus said the service wants to experiment and see what else the platform could do. 

“Its principal mechanism right now, as it was conceived, was the ability to sense and bring additional firepower, organic precision firepower to the totality of the package. But that doesn’t limit it from what it’s possibilities could be once we understand – you know, right now we’re still in that concept phase. But the initial concept the way it was scratched out was for an additional surface ISR and organic precision fires platform,” he said.

While IOC is about a year away and will mean the Marines are ready to deploy under the SIF concept, Fiscus said achieving full operational capability will require the Marine Corps to remain deployed for longer and sustain the force’s operations.

“By achieving IOC of the Stand-in Force, the totality of the Stand-in Force, you will have a deployable and sustainable capability for that to go forward, supported by the full MAGTF. That includes the full sense and make sense. So we will have our Group 5 [unmanned aerial system] – the MQ-9A – up with the ability to connect the whole package and do it. IOC means we have the capability and it’s deployable,” Fiscus said.

The 3rd MLR “be forward doing it, supporting operations, activities, investments – OAIs – but you’ll see the totality of the value proposition fieldable and presentable in its full depth. It may only be for finite periods of time because … the difference between IOC and FOC is depth and sustainability and how long that presence can be forward and impactful.”

USS Ronald Reagan Makes First Port Visit to Singapore Since 2019

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) pulled into Singapore last week for its first port visit to the nation in three years, the Navy announced. The carrier, which is forward-deployed in the region and based in Yokosuka, Japan, pulled into Singapore on Friday with one of its escorts, cruiser USS Antietam (CG-54), according to a U.S. 7th […]

The U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), pulls in to Changi Naval Base, Singapore for a scheduled port visit. U.S. Navy Photo

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) pulled into Singapore last week for its first port visit to the nation in three years, the Navy announced.

The carrier, which is forward-deployed in the region and based in Yokosuka, Japan, pulled into Singapore on Friday with one of its escorts, cruiser USS Antietam (CG-54), according to a U.S. 7th Fleet news release.

“Prior to arrival, USS Ronald Reagan operated in the South China Sea where it conducted maritime security operations, including flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike training, coordinated tactical training between surface and air units, as well as replenishments and fueling at-sea,” the release reads.

As Reagan left Yokosuka for its annual spring patrol in May, both the Russian and Chinese navies were active in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly around Japan, USNI News previously reported. While their activity has waned in recent week’s, both the Russian Navy and the People’s Liberation Army Navy had ships operating near Japan last week.

Reagan‘s visit to Singapore comes as U.S. Navy ships have started making port calls again after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented ships from their usual port stops.

Ronald Reagan Sailors and those embarked from Carrier Air Wing 5, Destroyer Squadron 15 and the entire strike group have shown their drive and dedication to the mission in the South China Sea, proving our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Rear Adm. Michael Donnelly, the Carrier Strike Group 5 commander, said in the news release. “The chance to make port in Singapore underscores the value of visits with our allies and partners in the region that enable us to work together and build impactful, trusting relationships that only our presence can foster.”

The Japan-based carrier typically makes two shorter patrols a year, with a winter maintenance availability in Yokosuka.

Navy Issues Ingalls, Bath Iron Works Contracts for DDG(X) Design and Engineering

The Navy on Friday announced contract awards to HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works to work on the design and engineering of the service’s next-generation guided-missile destroyer, also known as DDG(X). The award is for the “shipbuilder engineering and design analysis in order to produce design products in support of the Guided […]

Notional Navy DDG(X) hull design. PEO Ships Image

The Navy on Friday announced contract awards to HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works to work on the design and engineering of the service’s next-generation guided-missile destroyer, also known as DDG(X).

The award is for the “shipbuilder engineering and design analysis in order to produce design products in support of the Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG(X)) preliminary design and contract design,” according to the July 22 Defense Department contract announcement.

“The specific contract award amounts for these requirements is considered source-selection sensitive information and will not be made public at this time,” the announcement reads.

The Senate and the Navy are pushing for a teaming arrangement between Ingalls and BIW, which both build the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, to build DDG(X), USNI News reported this week.

“We are excited to continue on this path with our Navy and industry partners,” Kari Wilkinson, the president of Ingalls, said in an HII news release. “It provides us a tremendous opportunity to bring best practices and innovation from our experienced engineering team to the design of this important future surface combatant.”

DDG(X) is slated to succeed the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers.

“Bath Iron Works is eager to bring our cutting edge engineering and design expertise, now applied to the DDG 51 program, to the next generation of large surface combatants,” Chuck Krugh, the president of BIW, said in a company news release. “The opportunity to work alongside HII and our industry partners to meet the Navy’s needs for capability, schedule and cost will result in synergies that build on other extremely successful Navy construction programs.”

The Navy earlier this year disclosed plans to use the combat system from the Flight III Arleigh Burkes and the propulsion system from the Zumwalt-class destroyers for the future DDG(X). The service wants to field directed energy and hypersonic weapons on the next-generation destroyer.

The Friday contract announcement notes the awards were not issued through a “full and open competition.”

New Navy Unmanned Division to Serve as Bridge Between Program Office, Fleet

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – A new California command for unmanned surface vessels will be the bridge between the Navy’s requirements team in Washington, D.C., and the operational fleet. Cmdr. Jeremiah Daley, who leads the San Diego, Calif.,-based Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, in a recent interview with USNI News described his new role […]

Sea Hunter sits pierside at Naval Base San Diego, Calif., during the Unmanned Surface Vessel Division (USDIV) One Establishment ceremony on May 13, 2022. US Navy Photo

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – A new California command for unmanned surface vessels will be the bridge between the Navy’s requirements team in Washington, D.C., and the operational fleet.

Cmdr. Jeremiah Daley, who leads the San Diego, Calif.,-based Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, in a recent interview with USNI News described his new role as the “glue” between the program office at Naval Sea Systems Command and the fleet forward experimenting with the unmanned surface vehicles at sea.

The goal, Daley said, is to figure out what these USVs can do operationally to inform the evolving requirements for the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV) and the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV).

“I have two overlapping bins – the first bin is the NAVSEA PMS 406 program office bin, which is to take a lot of lessons learned from this platform, which has been around for a few years and … the OSVs, and find out and develop both the autonomy and the ship systems to get to a program of record – LUSV, as an example … and what that looks like. And that’s a combination of … the autonomy and that sort of system for safe navigation of the vessels,” Daley told USNI News at the pier in Pearl Harbor, where USV Seahawk prepared to head out to sea for the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise.

“And then there’s the payload piece, which is sort of the other bin. And that is not just a PMS 406 thing. That is an everyone contributing into the mix thing, into the team. And it’s bringing forward those capabilities, finding the right integration points to test them with the fleet, and to find the other testing and research opportunities to work through to figure out what the right blend of capability looks like for the program of record,” he continued.

Daley’s new USVDIV command now owns the Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships Nomad and Ranger, as well as Sea Hunter, which was originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and its sister ship Seahawk.

USVs Ranger and Nomad unmanned vessels underway in the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands on July 3, 2021. US Navy Photo

Nomad and Ranger were originally developed by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, but were transferred over to the Navy for testing and experimentation. More ships are on the way.

Daley is charged with the at-sea experimentation portion meant to inform the requirements side for future USV programs of record. His command, which formally stood up in May, is responsible for “testing and developing not just the maturation of autonomy and how the ship drives, but also all of the associated payloads that the Navy in general is working towards in concert with our research partners towards making – finding the right payloads to put onto USVs and how we implement them for a future program of record,” he said.

While Nomad and Ranger have personnel aboard for RIMPAC, Sea Hunter and Seahawk are operating autonomously without anyone aboard, aside from a small crew that helps the two USVs leave the pier. The Navy plans to use these four USVs – all prototypes – to determine how best to employ the assets in the fleet, including how they can work with manned warships.

“The program office and NAVSEA are building the ship, but I am a fleet person. So my charter is to figure out how we’re going to use them in the fight and how we’re going to increase interoperability, distributed maritime operations and lethality for the combination of manned and unmanned, and how we do that,” Daley said.

At RIMPAC 2022, Daley and his team have the chance to pair the USVs with cruisers and destroyers to experiment with the manned-unmanned teaming concept that Navy officials say is critical to the future of the new technology. The idea is that the USVs can augment the manned ships with additional sensing capability or potentially weapons capacity.

While the Navy has employed the USVs in other exercises, the at-sea phase of RIMPAC is the first time the four platforms are participating in the same drills.

Large unmanned surface vessel Ranger departs Pearl Harbor to begin the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11., 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s pursuit of unmanned USVs slowed in recent years amid Congressional skepticism over the new technology. Lawmakers wanted to see more testing and argued the Navy needs to better understand how it would employ the assets operationally, or the concept of operations.

“The perception may be from some that we’re running into this, this program’s been around for many years. The SCO – Ghost Fleet Overlord program – at least three years. My command just happens to be new,” Daley said. “But we’re at a level of evolution for how we are doing these types of testing events where you need a dedicated command that’s focused on bringing forward the technology, the lethality, the interconnectedness and finding out the right tactics, techniques and procedures – TTPs – on how we are going to interact and work with the fleet.”

Daley’s new command will help figures out the CONOPs and provide feedback to NAVSEA’s unmanned maritime systems program office, or PMS 406.

“PMS 406 and my organization are in constant contact with each other. We have a PMS 406 test director that is the gatekeeper for all events that we do for the underway periods on all of the vessels,” Daley told USNI News.

“So I am directly connected with them constantly, and my team and I are directly connected with them constantly so we can prioritize and work through and develop the plans on how we’re going to balance all the normal ship things – whether it’s maintenance or other things – and then how we’re going to do the testing and evaluating portion on both continuing the maturity of the autonomy and the sensor payload packages,” he added.

But Daley’s job also includes working toward the goals of the operational fleet commander.

Daley said sailors began pursuing the new command’s objectives earlier this year under the purview of Surface Development Squadron 1, which sits above Daley’s USVDIV One in the chain of command and was originally tasked with USV experimentation. That work leading up to USVDIV One’s formal stand-up in May included planning for RIMPAC.

“So my organization – we are planning just as if we were a regular Navy unit, just like a squadron of ships would have plans and operations departments. We have all the same infrastructure, so we utilized my boss’ staff to get ahead of that because we were brand new. We have the personnel in place to execute now and we will continue to grow as the next year or two go.”

Similar to manned ships, Daley has an operations center functioning like a battle watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the four USVs participate in RIMPAC.

“I also have an unmanned operations center that’s set up on the west coast of the U.S. that existed during the Ghost Fleet Overlord program as a test area. So I have the ability not just to be onboard, well stay onboard, but to control the vessels from ashore as well,” he said.

Medium displacement unmanned surface vessels Seahawk, front, and Sea Hunter launch for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21), April 20, 2021. US Navy Photo

Also similar to manned ships, the Navy will need to determine how it will maintain and sustain the USVs. While the Navy owns the USVs, they are currently operated by a merchant marine company.

“The task that we have is that how do you turn that into the right blend of normal – like a destroyer does quarterly maintenance periods … how do you blend that and use those experiences from the traditional fleet to sort of what LCS has,” Daley said, referring to the Littoral Combat Ship, which has a contractor-centric maintenance model.

“We are taking all of the efficiencies and different types of ways to get after it from a maintenance and sustainability standpoint and how we apply that to unmanned platforms because it’s very different. I don’t have a sailor to go change a filter on an engine at 8 o’clock at night on a Tuesday. I have to come up with different hull, mechanical and electrical control systems, sensors and reliability on the engineering plan that can sustain operations for extended periods of time without having to have humans onboard,” he added, noting the efforts underway in Philadelphia to build a shore-based hull, mechanical and engineering prototype for the MUSV and LUSV programs.

With the four ships already under USVDIV’s purview and three more under construction – two optionally unmanned surface vessels like Nomad and Ranger and one MUSV prototype that L3 Technologies is building – for research and development, Daley said his team will participate in more exercises after RIMPAC to continue providing feedback from the operational side to the requirements side.

“We are no different from a regular ship that requires maintenance and other things. So we’re just not available all the time, just like a regular ship isn’t available all the time. So we will go back and we will collect the data and process that,” Daley said.

“But we have a structured plan on our testing objectives from the program office’s side, so we find those opportunities where we can accomplish both our own internal PMS 406 testing objectives and combine them with fleet events and exercises – fleet exercises – so that we can be as efficient as possible with our underway time.”

RIMPAC 2022: Navy Teaming Warships with Unmanned Surface Vessels

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – With its four experimental unmanned surface vehicles in Hawaii, the Navy is testing news manned-unmanned teaming concepts at the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise this month. The service’s two Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships – Nomad and Ranger – are here operating off the coast of Hawaii, along […]

Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle, arrives at Pearl Harbor to participate in the Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on June 29, 2022. US Navy Photo

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII – With its four experimental unmanned surface vehicles in Hawaii, the Navy is testing news manned-unmanned teaming concepts at the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise this month.

The service’s two Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships – Nomad and Ranger – are here operating off the coast of Hawaii, along with USV Sea Hunter and USV Sea Hawk, as the Navy continues its research and development efforts to understand how it will employ these unmanned assets. Deploying unmanned systems across the fleet is key to the service’s future force structure.

Cmdr. Jeremiah Daley, the commander of the recently established Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, said RIMPAC is providing his team the chance to see how the USVs operate in conjunction with manned platforms like cruisers and destroyers.

“We are fully integrated with the entire RIMPAC exercise, both from a planning standpoint, the in-port phase with the sort of final planning pieces, and then the two phases in the underway portion – we are fully integrated with the entire command and control network for all of the manned ships here for RIMPAC,” Daley told USNI News this week at the pier, as Seahawk prepared to leave the harbor for the at-sea phase of the exercise.

Sea Hawk, the last of the USVs to leave the pier for RIMPAC’s at-sea phase, is “directly tied” to Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) in a task group led by the Republic of Singapore Navy, Daley said. That task group is operating under a two-star Korean admiral for the exercise.

“We’re working directly with a destroyer. We’re using different types of sensor payloads to tactically employ the USV from a manned ship. We get all of that data back and all of that feedback back from fleet operators on [cruiser/destroyer] or non-[cruiser/destroyer] ships, depending on the platform. And we’re getting that feedback back while doing the same type of interactions that we would do with regular U.S. forces, we’re doing more and doing it with our coalition partners that are here for RIMPAC,” Daley said.

After some experimentation and exercises with the USVs, Daley said his team took takeaways from those drills and used them to plan for RIMPAC. For example, there is a detachment aboard Fitzgerald operating the USV from the destroyer.

“I have an embarked detachment onboard Fitzgerald that is primarily responsible for controlling the vessels, but they’re also surface warfare officers that are working directly with the technical and the tactical groups onboard Fitzgerald to learn more lessons, right. And if we do those types of events more frequently we’ll get data back … more direct feedback in a faster way vice doing them separate and trying to combine them after.”

USVs Ranger and Nomad unmanned vessels underway in the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands on July 3, 2021. US Navy Photo

Sea Hunter, which was originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is teaming up with USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110). Sea Hunter has an electronic warfare payload, while Sea Hawk is operating with a towed array sonar as a sensing payload.

The idea is to use the USVs to augment the sensors aboard the manned destroyers. The USVs are “working directly with the manned platform and their capabilities to bring additional sensing capabilities and distributed sensing capability, which increases lethality from a targeting standpoint, and counter-targeting capability for an adversary if they were trying to find out which ship is doing what – we have four ships out there, as an example, and one of them just happens to be manned,” Daley explained.

Nomad and Ranger will operate with various assets during the exercise, but they are also teaming up with William P. Lawrence. Lawrence is operating under a New Zealand officer at the O-6 level who is the sea combat commander. That officer is embarked on U.S. Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53), Daley said.

“We’re connecting our networks in a way that is even one step beyond just manned and unmanned, right. It’s manned and unmanned and collation partners working together,” he told USNI News.

The two Ghost Fleet USVs, which were developed by the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office, will have personnel aboard during the exercise. But Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk will operate autonomously without anyone aboard, aside from a small crew that helps the USVs pull away from port. The crew comes off Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk once they head out to sea.

The experimentation at RIMPAC comes as the Navy works to refine both requirements and concept of operations for a future fleet of USVs. Service officials have described the manned-unmanned teaming concept as central to how the service plans to employ the newer technology and integrate it into the fleet.

Sea Hunter delivered to the Navy in early 2021 to attach to the service’s Surface Development Squadron One based in California. Several months later, Nomad reached California after sailing 4,421 nautical miles from the Gulf Coast in a trip the Pentagon described as “98 percent” autonomous.