Ships, Aircraft Leaving Naval Station Mayport in Advance of Hurricane Ian

Ships and aircraft are departing Naval Station Mayport as Hurricane Ian heads toward Florida, the service announced on Tuesday. Littoral Combat Ship USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) was the first ship to leave Mayport Tuesday, according to a Navy press release. Three other ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft sortied from Mayport ahead of the hurricane’s landfall. Six […]

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Ships and aircraft are departing Naval Station Mayport as Hurricane Ian heads toward Florida, the service announced on Tuesday.

Littoral Combat Ship USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) was the first ship to leave Mayport Tuesday, according to a Navy press release. Three other ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft sortied from Mayport ahead of the hurricane’s landfall.

Six ships will remain in Mayport tied to piers with heavy mooring. Any aircraft staying will be hangered between Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport, the service said.

“Hurricane preparations began months ago through a Navy-wide exercise ahead of the hurricane season,” said Rear Adm. Jim Aiken, commander U.S. 4th Fleet. “Our sailors will now focus on the safe execution of those planning efforts to enable sustained fleet operations.”

Rear Adm. Wes McCall, commander of Navy Region Southeast, also issued evacuations for non-essential active-duty service members, civilian employees, drilling reservists and some dependents, according to the release.

“Given the storm’s unpredictability and the forecasted winds and storm surge, civilian authorities along the west coast have issued mandatory evacuations,” McCall said in the release. “Since these evacuations will affect our military personnel and their families I have authorized the evacuations of those personnel located in the mandatory evacuation zones in Florida.”

Ian is expected to make landfall on Wednesday as a category four hurricane.

Reagan Strike Group Starts Drills with Korean Navy; Russian, Chinese Ships Spotted off Alaska

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG) began drills with the Republic of Korea Navy in the East Sea on Monday, the U.S. Navy announced. The Maritime Counter-Special Operations Exercise (MCSOFEX) in the East Sea with the ROKN, through Thursday, the service said. U.S. Navy units participating in the exercise are carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) with […]

A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook lands on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), in the waters east of the Korean peninsula on Sept. 26, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG) began drills with the Republic of Korea Navy in the East Sea on Monday, the U.S. Navy announced.

The Maritime Counter-Special Operations Exercise (MCSOFEX) in the East Sea with the ROKN, through Thursday, the service said. U.S. Navy units participating in the exercise are carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) Five, cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), destroyers USS Barry (DDG-52) and USS Benfold (DDG-65) and staff from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Five, according to the release. The Army’s 2nd Combat Air Brigade and U.S. Air Force’s 7th Air Force joined with units from U.S. Special Operations Command Korea for the exercises.

“Our combined ROK-U.S. naval force is demonstrating its strength and resolve by conducting this exercise together to build our combat readiness,” said Rear Adm. Michael Donnelly, commander, Task Force (CTF) 70/CSG 5, in the release.

The bilateral exercise includes live fire, surface warfare, anti-submarine and anti-air drills.

“This exercise will improve ROK-U.S. combined operational capabilities and bolstered interoperability,” said Rear Adm. Kwak, Kwang Sub, commander, ROK Navy Maritime Battle Group (MBG) 1, in the release. “Two navies will continue to maintaining combined naval defense posture based on iron-clad ROK-U.S. alliance.”

Russia, Chinese Warships Spotted near Alaska

A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, September 19, 2022. Coast Guard Photo

On Monday, the U.S Coast Guard issued a release stating that the joint Russian Navy – People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Action group was sighted sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska, on Sept. 19.

According to the release, USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) was on a routine patrol that day when it encountered a PLAN cruiser with the pennant number 101, which corresponds to CNS Nanchang (101) though China considers the ship as a destroyer.

Kimball later identified two more Chinese naval vessels and four Russian naval vessels, including a Russian Navy destroyer, all in a single formation with Nanchang as a combined surface action group operating in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), according to the release.

As a result of the sighting, Kimball is now operating under Operation Frontier Sentinel, a Seventeenth Coast Guard District operation designed to meet presence with presence when strategic competitors operate in and around U.S. waters.

“The U.S. Coast Guard’s presence strengthens the international rules-based order and promotes the conduct of operations in a manner that follows international norms. While the surface action group was temporary in nature, and Kimball observed it disperse, the Kimball will continue to monitor activities in the U.S. EEZ to ensure the safety of U.S. vessels and international commerce in the area,” according to the release, which also added that a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130 Hercules air crew provided support to the Kimball’s Operation Frontier Sentinel activities.

Coast Guard cutters deployed to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean also encountered Chinese naval vessels, including a surface action group transiting approximately 50 miles off the Aleutian Island chain, in September 2021.

“While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms,” said Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, Seventeenth Coast Guard District commander in the release, “we will meet presence-with-presence to ensure there are no disruptions to U.S. interests in the maritime environment around Alaska.”

The Russian Navy – PLAN surface action group consists of Russian Navy destroyer RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov (543), corvettes RFS Sovershennyy (333), RFS Gromkiy (335) and RFS Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov (339), and replenishment ship Pechanga, while the PLAN contingent consist of Nanchang, frigate CNS Yancheng (546) and replenishment ship CNS Dongpinghu (902).

The two navies have been working together to carry out a joint naval patrol in the Pacific Ocean, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Sept. 15.

On Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that the group had held a number of drills, including search and rescue rehearsals and air defense exercises, as part of joint patrols in the Pacific Ocean.

The statement also said the group had been practicing maneuvers using various formations and establishing communication links between the vessels and that several joint and individual exercises were conducted to work out anti-submarine missions, search and rescue operations at sea and execute air defense tasks, with flights performed by antisubmarine and rescue ship-based helicopters.

The Russian and Chinese warships have sailed more than 3,000 nautical miles in the past 12 days and are continuing their patrols, according to the release.

PLAN ships have also been sighted transiting through Japanese straits, according to Japan Ministry of Defense releases.

On Monday, the Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Ministry of Defence issued two releases with the first release stating that at around 8 a.m. Friday, a PLAN destroyer, frigate and replenishment ship were sighted sailing southeast in an area 180km north of Miyako Island before they sailed southeast through the Miyako Strait ,which lies between Miyako Island and Okinawa. The PLAN ships were identified as destroyer CNS Huainan (123), frigate CNS Rizhao (598) and replenishment ship CNS Kekexilihu (968).

The three ships form the PLAN 42nd China Naval Escort Task Force, which left their homeport on Sept. 21 for the Gulf of Aden to conduct anti-piracy escort missions there. The task force is now in the South China Sea, according to a release from China’s Ministry of National Defense.

The JSO release stated that the PLAN ships were monitored by Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Inazuma (DD-105) and minesweeper JS Shishijima (MSC-691), a JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 1 based at JMSDF Kanoya Air Field, Kyushu, and a P-3C Orion of Fleet Air Wing 5 based at Naha Air Base, Okinawa.

The second JSO release stated that at noon Friday, a PLAN Dongdiao class surveillance vessel, hull number 796, was sighted sailing east in an area 100 km southwest of Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, and subsequently sailed northeast through the Tsushima Strait in the Sea of Japan.

Minesweepers JS Toyoshima (MSC-685) and JS Ukushima (MSC-686) and fast attack craft JS Umitaka (PG-828) shadowed the PLAN ship.

The JSO issued another release Tuesday after a PLAN Dongdiao class surveillance vessel with the hull number 794 was sighted around 4 p.m. Monday sailing northwest in an area 140km east of Miyako Island. The ship then sailed northwest through the Miyako Strait and into the East China Sea.

Dongdiao 794 previously sailed southeast through the Miyako Strait on Aug. 28, and Toyoshima and a JMSDF P-3C Orion of Fleet Air Wing 5 shadowed the PLAN ship.

Over in Yokosuka, destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and LCS USS Oakland (LCS-24) arrived at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) on Monday for scheduled port visits.

Lockheed Martin Delivers 12th Freedom-Class LCS Cooperstown

The Navy took delivery of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship Cooperstown (LCS-23) at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Marinette, Wis., Naval Sea Systems Command announced late last week. Coopertown is the 12th Freedom-class variant that Lockheed Martin turned over to the Navy and the second delivered with a fix to the complex gearing mechanism […]

Cooperstown (LCS-23) during sea trials. Lockheed Martin Photo

The Navy took delivery of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship Cooperstown (LCS-23) at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Marinette, Wis., Naval Sea Systems Command announced late last week.

Coopertown is the 12th Freedom-class variant that Lockheed Martin turned over to the Navy and the second delivered with a fix to the complex gearing mechanism that links the ship’s gas turbines to its diesel engines.

USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) was the first ship to recieve the fix for the issue in the RENK AG-built combining gear. The fault came to light after combining gear causalities on USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9).

The Navy and Lockheed Martin are also working on fixes for USS St. Louis (LCS-19) and the future USS Marinette (LCS-25), NAVSEA told USNI News last month.

Lockheed Martin and the Navy are currently working on fixes for other Littoral Combat Ships with the combining gear issue. That includes USS Sioux City (LCS-11), which is currently forward-deployed and slated for decommissioning in Fiscal Year 2023.

In addition to Sioux City, the Navy is aiming to decommission several of the LCSs despite their limited time in service.

Cooperstown (LCS-23) ship’s crest.

USS Freedom (LCS-1) commissioned in 2008 and decommissioned in 2021, USNI News previously reported. The Navy is also looking to decommission USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), USS Detroit (LCS-7), USS Little Rock (LCS-9), Sioux City, USS Wichita (LCS-13), USS Billings (LCS-15) and USS St. Louis (LCS-19) in FY 2023. But the House Armed Services Committee has a provision in its version of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to prevent four of the ships from being decommissioned, while the Senate Armed Services Committee’s bill would save five.

Despite the push to decommission the Littoral Combat Ships, the Navy is still expected to accept four more ships. Lockheed Martin is slated to deliver future USS Marinette (LCS-25) in early 2023, while the company continues work on USS Nantucket (LCS-27), USS Beloit (LCS-29) and USS Cleveland (LCS-31), the last ship in the Freedom class.

The next step for Cooperstown is its commissioning ceremony in New York City followed by a move to its new homeport in Mayport, Fla.

Cooperstown is the first ship named for the New York village. It’s home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The ship’s motto – America’s Away Team – plays on its namesake, according to a Navy news release.

PEO Carriers: USS Gerald R. Ford ‘Fully Delivered’ Ready to Deploy

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Five years after its commissioning, the world’s largest warship is in shape to deploy, the officer who oversees the Navy’s carrier program said last week. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) quietly reached its initial operating capability in December and has been in workups since completing a six-month repair availability in March […]

Distinguished visitors observe flight operations aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), Sept. 17, 2022. US Navy Photo

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Five years after its commissioning, the world’s largest warship is in shape to deploy, the officer who oversees the Navy’s carrier program said last week.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) quietly reached its initial operating capability in December and has been in workups since completing a six-month repair availability in March following explosive shock trials off the coast of Florida.

“She’s fully delivered now, she’s met her initial operating capability,” Rear Adm. James Downey told USNI News last week during the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.
“She’s fully through the operational threshold.”

Since leaving the repair period, Ford and its crew have been operating at a steady pace off of the East Coast with elements of Carrier Air Wing 8. The crew aboard completed system qualification tests, flight deck certification, three phases of air warfare training, and a Combat Systems Operational Readiness Evaluation that included 11,000 aircraft launches and arrested landings, according to the service.

“Over the last couple of years, she’s spent 250 to 300 days at sea,” Downey said.
“That’s coming up on about two deployments [of steaming days].”

USS Gerald R. Ford while in homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, on April 7, 2022. USNI News Photo

The delay for the $13 billion Ford to pull its share of the operational load was in large part due to the integration of a bevy of new technologies that Pentagon leaders required the Navy to include in the new class.

Those included the Electromagnetic Launching System, known as EMALS, for the aircraft, the Advanced Arresting Gear and the Dual Band air search radar. That included the installation of 11 advanced weapons elevators which took several years. The final one was delivered in December.

Following the completion of the training and certifications, Ford departed Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 16 ahead of an Atlantic training cruise later this year.

“She has every certification that every other carrier has – from flying to live weapons,” Downey told USNI News.

As of Monday, Ford was operating in the Virginia Capes Operating Areas, according to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker.

The upcoming underway won’t be the same as a full carrier strike group deployment, but will be an extended training cruise meant to give the operational commander a chance to get a better sense of how Ford operates, two congressional sources briefed on the Navy’s plan told USNI News in the last several weeks.

The Navy has billed the underway as a “service retained deployment,” which doesn’t require the same certifications for a fully deployed CSG, the Hill sources confirmed to USNI News. The training cruise will partner the strike group with allied ships and will inform a traditional deployment in 2023, USNI News has learned.

When Ford finally enters the deployment cycle, it will ease the burden of the existing East Coast carrier fleet, which has seen a string of extended deployments over the last several years. The carrier was originally scheduled to deploying 2018.

Anzio, Hué City Leave the Fleet as Navy Cruiser Decommissionings Continue

After more than 30 years in the Navy, USS Anzio (CG-68) and USS Hué City (CG-66) decommissioned this week. Anzio, which was commissioned May 2, 1992, ceremonially left the fleet on Thursday during a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in a ceremony attended by the current crew and plankowners of the ship. Hué City‘s decommissioning […]

Sailors and plankowners of the Ticonderoga-class, guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG-68) haul down the pennants, the jack, and the ensign during the ship’s decommissioning ceremony onboard Naval Station Norfolk, Sept. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

After more than 30 years in the Navy, USS Anzio (CG-68) and USS Hué City (CG-66) decommissioned this week.

Anzio, which was commissioned May 2, 1992, ceremonially left the fleet on Thursday during a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in a ceremony attended by the current crew and plankowners of the ship. Hué City‘s decommissioning ceremony, also held in Norfolk, was Friday.

Hué City, commissioned Sept. 14, 1991, and served 31 years in the Navy. The ship was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding and is named after a Vietnam War battle, the only warship to bear a name from the conflict.

Hué City, deployed multiple times over its 31 years of service, including providing humanitarian support in New York following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Between 2002 to 2017, the ship deployed seven times in order to support Operation Enduring Freedom and other efforts in the Middle East.

“Her crew sailed with the full knowledge of the heritage that sailed with them and in striving to remain true to it, built a legacy of success of their own,” commanding officer Cmdr. Thad Tasso said in a Navy statement. “As she now takes her rightful place in our Navy’s history, I can think of no more fitting epitaph for her service than ‘she was worthy of the name she bears’.”

Anzio was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding, with her keel laying in August 1989. The ship is the second ship to bear the name Anzio, named after the invasion of Anzio and Nettuno, in Italy, during the second world war.

Over 30 years of service, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser deployed multiple times, including on a maiden deployment in October 1994. The ship supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the service.

USS Hué (CG-66) at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

One of the Anzio plankowners at the decommissioning ceremony was retired Capt. H. Wyman Howard, the first commanding officer of the ship. When the ship was first commissioned, 400 sailors came aboard, most in the early 20s with little sea experience, he said.

“Whether you fought at the Anzio beachhead, welded a piece of her steel, supervised her construction, or gave your love and support to us during 20 months of hard work, you are a valued member of Team Anzio,” Howard said, according to a Navy statement. “Thank you for all the hours, hard work, and sacrifices you made to make this day a reality.”

Cmdr. Greg Piorun, commanding officer of Anzio, said that the ceremony marked a strong bond between the sailors who served aboard it.

“From the countless hundreds of thousands of miles traveled to the comradery cemented in foreign port calls, the one thing that holds true is the connections Anzio Sailors made with each other and the bonds that formed during their service together,” Piorun said.

Anzio and Hué City were both part of the Navy’s cruiser-phased modernization program. Anzio entered in 2017 while Hué City entered in 2018. The plan was to keep the ships at the pier in a caretaker state and then modernize them as the older in-service cruisers began to leave the fleet.

The Navy abandoned the plan as the estimated costs continued to grow and instead moved to decommission the ships as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget submission.

“If we were to retain those ships for two years – all seven ships – that’s roughly $2.78 billion. The cost to modernize Hue City and Anzio alone is $1.5 billion approximately,” Vice Adm. Jim Kilby told Congress in 2021.

The Navy planned to decommission five cruisers in FY 2022.

USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) decommissioned on Aug. 4. USS Monterey (CG-61) decommissioned on Sept. 19. USS Port Royal (CG-73) is set to have its decommissioning ceremony on Sept. 29.

Carrier Ronald Reagan Makes Rare South Korean Port Call, Russian Ships Active Near Japan

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) docked into the Republic of Korea on Friday, the Navy announced,  the first port call to the country in nearly four years. Reagan pulled in with cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) and destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52), arrived in Busan. //did Barry arrive in Busan or did Reagan, Barry and Chancellorsville pull in?// Destroyer USS […]

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) pulls into port in Busan, Republic of Korea, Sept. 23, 2022. US Navy Photo

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) docked into the Republic of Korea on Friday, the Navy announced,  the first port call to the country in nearly four years.

Reagan pulled in with cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) and destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52), arrived in Busan. //did Barry arrive in Busan or did Reagan, Barry and Chancellorsville pull in?// Destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65) pulled in at Chinhae to the east.

“The Ronald Reagan Strike Group’s visit is of strategic importance to the U.S. and Republic of Korea relationship and is a clear and unambiguous demonstration of U.S. commitment to the Alliance,” Rear Adm. Buzz Donnelly the strike group’s commander said in the statement. “We’re excited to return to Busan. Our presence and commitments to the Republic of Korea and the Indo-Pacific region are not new, and visits like this are part of our routine operations in the region that have helped maintain peace for more than 70 years.”

The Reagan CSG will drill with the Republic of Korea Navy next month, following the port visit, which combines both preparations and planning for the drill along with engagement activities and crew recreation. Prior to arrival in Korea, the Reagan strike group conducted drills with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Amagiri (DD-154)

In addition to Reagan, guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) is operating in the Western Pacific.

Zumwalt departed Guam on Monday after a scheduled port call, according to the U.S. Navy. The visit marks the farthest the destroyer ever been from its home port of Naval Base San Diego, Calif.

Amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) is currently in the Philippines Sea after drilling with USS America (LHA-6) on Sept. 17 while both ships were sailing in the East China Sea.

Forward deployed amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans (LPD-18), part of the Tripoli Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is in the Sea of Japan with embarked elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

Amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD-47) is operating around Japan having wrapped up an interoperability and beach landing exercise on Monday with JMSDF LST JS Kunisaki (LST-4003) at Numazu marine exercise area in Shizuoka Prefecture, Honshu. The exercise began on Sept. 16.

Operating around the East China Sea now is the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH331) as part of Operation Neon – Canada’s contribution to a coordinated multinational effort to support United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea. Canada’s participation includes surveillance and monitoring any ships that break the U.N. sanctions. Vancouver has been conducting the mission since mid-September and it is the sixth such deployment by the RCN since 2018. On Tuesday, Vancouver conducted a Taiwan Straits transit with USS Higgins (DDG-76).

Also this week, four Russian Navy Tarantul class corvettes were sighted sailing west through La Pérouse Strait and into the East China Sea, the Japanese Ministry of Defense said on Sept. 16.

The corvettes were identified as RFS R-14 (924), RFS R-18 (937), RFS R-11 (940) and RFS Ivanovets (954). The Russian corvettes were monitored by JMSDF fast attack craft JS Kumataka (PG-827) and a P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 2 station at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base, Honshu.

Ivanovets is part of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and has been sighted as part of that fleet since July this year, it is unclear if the ship had been reassigned to the Pacific Fleet or if one of the other Tarantul-class corvettes in the Russian Pacific Fleet, which operates a total of 10 of the class, has been renumbered. Since its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been painting over the hull numbers of its ships to obscure their identities.

La Pérouse Strait is an international waterway that divides the Russian island of Sakhalin and Japan’s island of Hokkaido. The strait is routinely transited by Russian Pacific Fleet ships moving between the Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk as both seas form part of the fleet operational areas. Japan monitors closely the activities of Russian and Chinese naval vessels sailing nearby.

On Wednesday, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) 42nd China Naval Escort Task Force comprising of destroyer CNS Huainan (123), frigate CNS Rizhao (598) and replenishment ship CNS Kekexilihu (968) left their homebase of Qingdao to relieve the 41st China Naval Escort Task Force, which includes destroyer CNS Suzhou (132), frigate CNS Nantong (533) and replenishment ship CNS Chaohu (890), that deployed in May this year. The PLAN has been dispatching ships to perform escort duties in the Gulf of Aden since 2008.

In Australia, a total of 16 ships, one submarine, 34 aircraft and 3000 personnel from 22 countries are carrying out the sea phase of the Royal Australian Navy led Exercise Kakadu 2022 in the waters and airspace of the Northern Australian Exercise area. The exercise is being held from Sept. 12-24 and encompassed both warfare and maritime enforcement training. Countries involved in the exercise are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Cook Islands, Fiji, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Palau, Philippines, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Timor Leste, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and Vanuatu.

The Royal Australian Navy ships taking part in the exercise are destroyer HMAS Hobart (DDG39), frigate HMAS Perth (FFH157), replenishment ship HMAS Stalwart (A304) and patrol boat HMAS Broome (ACPB90), along with an RAN submarine. Fiji, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States have each sent a ship for the exercise: Republic of Fiji Naval Forces patrol craft RFNS Savenaca (401), French Navy frigate FNS Vendémiaire (F734), Indian Navy frigate INS Satpura (F48), Indonesian Navy frigate KRI Raden Eddy Martadinata (331), JMSDF destroyer JS Kirisame (DD-104), Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Lekiu (FFGH30), Republic of Singapore Navy frigate RSS Steadfast (70), Royal Thai Navy frigate HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej (FFG 471) and U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Charleston (LCS-18).

Along with Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8 Poseidon MPAs and Hawk fighter trainers, an Indian Navy P-8I Poseidon MPA and s U.S Navy P-8 Poseidon MPA is also taking part in the exercise while the German Air Force and Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) contingents, which were in Australia for the RAAF Pitch Black exercise held from Aug.19 through Sept. 8 have stayed on to participate in Kakadu. The German Air Force contingent comprises of six Eurofighter Typhoons, three A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transports (MRTT), and an A400M transport while the RSAF contingent comprises of 8 F-15SG and 8 F-16D fighters, a Gulfstream 550 airborne early warning aircraft and a A330 MRTT.

Marines Clear ACVs to Return to Open Water with Restrictions

The Marines cleared the Amphibious Combat Vehicle to return to sea for training after a two-month pause following an incident that disabled two ACVs in California, the service announced on Thursday afternoon. The service took the ACVs out of the water days after heavy surf tipped over two of the vehicles, disabling them, off the […]

Marines assigned to the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division, conduct waterborne training with an Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) from shore to loading amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD-23) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 12, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

The Marines cleared the Amphibious Combat Vehicle to return to sea for training after a two-month pause following an incident that disabled two ACVs in California, the service announced on Thursday afternoon.

The service took the ACVs out of the water days after heavy surf tipped over two of the vehicles, disabling them, off the coast of Camp Pendleton, Calif., in July. The Marines conducted an internal review of the safety margins of the ACVs following the incident and set the current surf limit at four feet.

“The interim maximum surf conditions identified include a significant breaker height of four feet, which allows the ACV to operate safely while maintaining a high-state of readiness for the ACV community,” according to the Thursday statement from the service.

The surf conditions in July that disabled the two ACVs surged from 8 to 10 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

“The interim maximum surf conditions are conservative and derive from existing safe operating surf conditions for U.S. Navy and Marine Corps landing craft and allows the service to better understand surf conditions through ongoing vehicle testing,” according to the statement.

As the BAE Systems-built vehicles return to the water, the Marines will continue to evaluate and potentially expand the operational margins of the ACVs.

An ACV aboard USS Anchorage on Feb. 12, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

The resumption of at sea training still may not provide enough time for the service for the to deploy ACVs for the first time with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, USNI News understands.

In July, USS Makin Island (LHD-8), USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26) and USS Anchorage (LPD-23 completed certifications to deploy the ACVs as part of the Amphibious Squadron Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training (PMINT).

Two defense officials told USNI News in late August, it was unlikely the ACVs would be part of the upcoming deployment later this year. Despite Thursday’s loosening of ACV restrictions on open water, USNI News understands the vehicles still won’t deploy aboard the Makin Island ARG.

The ACVs is set to replace the Marines’ legacy Amphibious Assault Vehicles. The service AAVs were permanently banned from water operations in December. In 2020, an AAV sank off the coast of California killing eight Marines and one sailor, which prompted the water ban from the service.

Report to Congress on Navy Force Structure

The following is the Sept. 19, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The current and planned size and composition of the Navy, the annual rate of Navy ship procurement, the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, and the capacity of the […]

The following is the Sept. 19, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The current and planned size and composition of the Navy, the annual rate of Navy ship procurement, the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, and the capacity of the U.S. shipbuilding industry to execute the Navy’s shipbuilding plans have been oversight matters for the congressional defense committees for many years.

In December 2016, the Navy released a force-structure goal that calls for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 355 ships of certain types and numbers. The 355-ship goal was made U.S. policy by Section 1025 of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810/P.L. 115- 91 of December 12, 2017). The 355-ship goal predates the Trump and Biden Administrations’ national defense strategies and does not reflect the new fleet architecture (i.e., new mix of ships) that the Navy wants to shift toward in coming years. This new fleet architecture is to feature a smaller proportion of larger ships, a larger proportion of smaller ships, and a new third element of large unmanned vehicles (UVs). The Navy and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been working since 2019 to develop a successor for the 355-ship force-level goal that would reflect current national defense strategy and the new fleet architecture.

The Navy’s FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan, released on April 20, 2022, presents the results of three studies on possibilities for the Navy’s successor force-level goal. These studies call for a future Navy with 321 to 404 manned ships and 45 to 204 large UVs. A long-range Navy shipbuilding document that the Navy released on June 17, 2021, and which reflects some of these studies, outlined a future Navy that would include 321 to 372 manned ships and 77 to 140 large UVs. A congressionally mandated Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement (BFSAR) report that reportedly was provided to Congress in July 2022 reportedly calls for a Navy with 373 battle force ships.

The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $27.9 billion in shipbuilding funding for, among other things, the procurement of eight new ships, including two Virginia (SSN-774) class attack submarines, two Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class destroyers, one Constellation (FFG-62) class frigate, one LPD-17 Flight II class amphibious ship, one John Lewis (TAO-205) class oiler, and one Navajo (TATS-6) class towing, salvage, and rescue ship. The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission shows a ninth ship—the amphibious assault ship LHA-9—as also being requested for procurement in FY2023. Consistent with both prior-year congressional authorization and appropriation action and Section 126 of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 6395/P.L. 116-283 of January 1, 2021), CRS reports on Navy shipbuilding programs, including this report, treat LHA-9 as a ship that Congress procured (i.e., authorized and provided procurement—not advance procurement [AP]—funding for) in FY2021. Navy officials have described the listing of LHA-9 in the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission as a ship being requested for procurement in FY2023 as an oversight. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget also proposes retiring 24 ships, including 9 relatively young Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs).

The FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan released on April 20, 2022, includes three potential 30-year shipbuilding profiles and resulting 30-year force-level projections, referred to as Alternatives 1, 2, and 3. Alternatives 1 and 2 assume no real (i.e., above-inflation) growth in shipbuilding funding beyond the level to be attained over the five-year period FY2023- FY2027, while Alternative 3 assumes some amount of real growth in shipbuilding funds after FY2027. Under Alternative 1, the Navy would reach 300 manned ships in FY2035 and grow to 316 manned ships by FY2052. Under Alternative 2, the Navy would reach 300 manned ships in FY2035 and grow to 327 manned ships by FY2052. Under Alternative 3, the Navy would reach 300 manned ships in FY2033 and grow to 367 manned ships by FY2052.

Download the document here.

Chinese Fleet Expansion Pushing U.S. Navy to Catch Up on Maintenance as Backlogs Persist

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The rapid expansion in size of the People’s Liberation Army Navy is at the forefront of the maintainers working to reduce the U.S. fleet’s maintenance backlog, senior enlisted leaders said on Tuesday. “When we talk about maintenance with our leaders, peer competitors are the first thing that comes out of their […]

USS Preble (DDG-88) and USS Russell (DDG-59) in maintenance on Feb. 15, 2022 in San Diego, Calif. USNI News Photo

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The rapid expansion in size of the People’s Liberation Army Navy is at the forefront of the maintainers working to reduce the U.S. fleet’s maintenance backlog, senior enlisted leaders said on Tuesday.

“When we talk about maintenance with our leaders, peer competitors are the first thing that comes out of their mouth,” Naval Sea Systems Command Command Master Chief Justin Gray said at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.
“We know that China has three times our industrial capacity, which means that we can’t afford to waste any of the time.”

While the Chinese fleet this year grew beyond 355 ships, the U.S. still has a backlog of about 4,200 days of maintenance delays in the surface ship program – the equivalent of reducing the fleet by about 10 ships for a year.

More complex warship modernizations and a need for more qualified shipyard workers are resulting in a continued backlog of Navy surface ship maintenance, senior Navy maintenance officials said on Tuesday.

At the end of Fiscal Year 2022, Naval Sea Systems Command expects to finish only 36 percent of its maintenance availabilities on time – down from 44 percent last year, said Rear Adm. Bill Greene, the fleet maintenance director for U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

“We’re going in the wrong direction in terms of on time delivery,” he said at the ASNE symposium.

The Navy currently has 41 surface ships in availabilities across the service with about a 100 more in the works, Greene said.

The service has spent more than a decade on its effort to catch up on surface maintenance, which was neglected for years at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A major driver of maintaining delays a decade ago were the effects of deferred maintenance in unplanned work, like corrosion in tanks that hadn’t been opened in years

Today, much of the delay is due to the installation of modernized combat systems on legacy hulls, Greene said. In addition to the testing, the combat system work includes installing complex electrical and information technology components that can make it difficult to feather in other maintenance priorities during an availability.

“We continue to struggle in this area,” Greene said.

To test the combat systems mods, much of the work on the ship electrical and propulsion systems needs to be completed ahead of time. That exacerbates delivering the ships on time from the availabilities, Greene said.

“Modernization is absolutely critical in our ability to maintain our advantage over our adversaries,” he said.
“[But] there’s constant tension between getting the latest and greatest capabilities on our ships, and getting our shipyards and our private teams time to get the work done.”

Further complicating getting ships out on time is a lack of qualified shipyard workers in both the public and private yards.

The four Navy public shipyards – responsible for mostly submarine and aircraft carrier maintenance – are seeing “record attrition” and are short 1,000 shipyard workers, Greene said.

Private yards are also struggling to recruit and keep talent, specifically engineers, experienced trade workers and information technology workers.

The Navy has seen some relief in the backlog from big data-intensive efforts like the service’s Performance to Plan (P2P) and Naval Sustainment System (NSS) efforts, which more efficiently chart out the course of a maintenance period. But the delays persist.

Adding to the planning headaches for the service are changing decommissioning schedules.

Congress has rejected and revised the Navy’s most recent decommissioning plans for some of the guided-missile cruisers and Littoral Combat Ships the Navy has asked to shed.

“The biggest problem we have right now is the uncertainty we have in our decommissioning schedules,” Greene said.
“When we put a ship on the decommissioning list, funding for future availabilities and modernization is reprogramed.”

Meanwhile, maintainers are looking for more ways to improve the maintenance to deliver the ships to the fleet.

“Those sailors cannot employ those instruments of war if they’re tied up in maintenance. So we got to deliver those assets,” Gray said.
“If there’s one thing I’ve communicated to you today is a sense of urgency.”

Trial Begins for Alleged Bonhomme Richard Arsonist

NAVAL BASE, SAN DIEGO, Calif. – To military prosecutors, the fire that led to a 2020 conflagration that destroyed a multi-billion dollar amphibious warship was “a mischievous act of defiance” by a young sailor angry that he dropped from Navy SEAL training. But defense attorneys contend that Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays is innocent, the target […]

An MH-60S Knight Hawk helicopter from the Merlins of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 provides aerial firefighting support to fight the fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on July 14, 2020. US Navy Photo

NAVAL BASE, SAN DIEGO, Calif. – To military prosecutors, the fire that led to a 2020 conflagration that destroyed a multi-billion dollar amphibious warship was “a mischievous act of defiance” by a young sailor angry that he dropped from Navy SEAL training.

But defense attorneys contend that Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays is innocent, the target of a questionable federal investigation into the July 2020 fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) that has little evidence to tie him to the blaze.

Mays, 22, a Kentucky native, is facing two felony charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice – one count of aggravated arson (Article 126) and one count of willful hazarding a vessel (Article 110). The latter charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

A military judge, Capt. Derek Jones, is presiding over the two-week general court-martial and will determine the fate of May, who opted for a trial by judge rather than have a military jury hear the case.

Bonhomme Richard was berthed at Pier 2 at Naval Base San Diego on the Sunday morning of July 12, 2020, when a fire broke out in the ship’s lower vehicle deck. The ship was at the end of a $249 million scheduled maintenance overhaul that included upgrades to the ship’s combat systems and flight deck to accommodate the Marine Corps’ new fleet of F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter jets.

Only a fraction of ship’s company was aboard the 844-foot-long vessel that morning. That weekend, junior sailors began moving back aboard the ship, which was in the 88th week undergoing work under the maintenance availability contract the Navy had issued to BAE Systems.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Graphic of the suspected Arson site in the Lower “V”

On Monday, prosecutors argued that Mays had a grudge against the Navy and hated doing the drudge work of the deck department. Mays was assigned to the ship after dropping out of the Basic Underwater Demolition Training/SEAL course and his frustration caused him to set his ship afire.

“It was a mischievous act of defiance gone wrong,” Cmdr. Leah O’Brien told the court in opening statements Monday morning.

“There is absolutely no doubt that fire was arson,” O’Brien said, and she argued that “there was nobody in the Lower V… except for one sailor, Seaman Recruit Mays.”

Mays became a suspect after another sailor told Navy and federal fire investigators that he had seen Mays in the lower vehicle deck before the fire broke out.

Investigators, however, in prior testimony, haven’t identified the specific source of what started the fire, which spread quickly from the ship’s lower vehicle stowage area and grew as it spread across most of the ship’s 14 decks. It took hundreds of firefighters and sailors nearly five days to get the fire to get under control. The Navy eventually sold the hulk for scrap.

Mays has denied any role in the fire. His attorneys have argued that fire investigators – led by agents from the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service – skipped other possible suspects and selectively left out evidence of other potential causes in the final fire investigation they submitted to the Navy.

“Cognitive bias led this entire investigation astray,” Lt. Tayler Haggerty, one of May’s three military attorneys. Mays, “is innocent,” she said.

Mays

Mays had mustered on the flight deck the morning of the fire as the crew was on their Sunday holiday routine, Haggerty said. He did light chores in his assigned spaces before he heard calls of “black smoke” ring out. “He was never in the Lower V,” Haggerty told the court. “So why are we here?”

The attorney argued that investigators dismissed another sailor as a potential suspect for starting the fire, even after they learned that sailor, Fireman Elijah McGovern, had done internet searches that morning for “heat scale white” and “fire color heat scale.” McGovern had been standing watch before the fire started, and investigators who questioned him had said that he said those internet searches were part of his interest in his personal writings about fire-breathing dragons.

It’s unclear whether McGovern, who last year was separated from the Navy, will be called on to testify. Navy prosecutors last month told the judge that they had no luck locating him.

Haggerty described McGovern as having his own grudge against the Navy.

“He did not like being in the Navy,” he said.

She noted that McGovern, whose nickname was Arc, was considered a suspect in what was an inconclusive investigation into a series of graffiti scrawled on ship and portable toilets after the Bonhomme Richard fire. He was eliminated as a suspect even though a handwriting expert found him to be a possible match. Those writings included comments like, “I did it[.] I set the ship on fire. Fuck the ship. One down three to go,” she said.

Defense attorneys also have argued that the fire investigation didn’t examine other potential sources of the fire, including discarded Lithium-ion batteries stored in the Lower V area where fire investigators agree the blaze began.

Seven former Bonhomme Richard sailors testified on Monday – several by video call – and described seeing smoke and their firefighting reporting and response in the initial hour after the fire began

One sailor, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Beau Thomas Benson, described the area in the Lower V area as a cluttered catch-all, a “junkyard” filled with ship and contractor gear.

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nelson Ernesto PablosGarcia, during questioning by lead prosecutor Capt. Jason Jones, described thick smoke that filled the area by the Upper and Lower vehicle decks and heat so intense he could feel it through his boots. He made several attempts to reach the lower deck via the ramp but was pushed back by the heat and lack of full protective firefighting and breathing equipment in those early moments of the fire.

The location of the lower vehicle deck aboard Bonhomme Richard (LHA-6). USNI News Graphic

The fire “will get hotter by the foot,” PablosGarcia said. He had to close his eyes and nearly got blinded because of the heavy smoke.

Damage Controlman 1st Class Jeffrey Garvin, a fire marshal on duty when the fire broke out, was visibly shaken during questioning on the stand when asked about events that morning.

“It was very intense smoke. Super-hot. It was something I had never felt before,” Garvin testified. He tried to reach the Lower V deck but was turned back by “excessive heat and the inability to breathe.”

Garvin left the hangar bay at times, unprovoked, to reach the space where he and several sailors reportedly saw “orange” glow. He was concerned there were crew members there.

“You’re supposed to make sure everybody is safe,” he said.

The handheld thermal imager he held showed the heat in the spaces to be 900 degrees and higher. The imagers max out at 1,100 degrees, with the screen going white.

Before testimony began, both sides argued over the inclusion of evidence for the judge to weigh about a separate and smaller fire that was reported aboard Bonhomme Richard just a few weeks before the huge blaze. ATF Special Agent Matthew Beals described that fire as a report of a fire in a styrofoam cup.

During questioning by a defense attorney Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres, Beals admitted “there was no analysis of the liquid” in the cup, which the attorney said was found in an engineering maintenance space aboard the ship in June 2020 after a sailor reported seeing “12-inch flames” and smoke. The incident wasn’t included in the larger Bonhomme Richard fire investigation.

The trial continues Tuesday, with fire investigators and fire forensics experts expected to testify as the government’s case continues.