Report to Congress on Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense

The following is the May 18, 2022 Congressional Research Service report Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) program, which is carried out by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Navy, gives Navy Aegis cruisers and destroyers a capability for […]

The following is the May 18, 2022 Congressional Research Service report Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) program, which is carried out by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Navy, gives Navy Aegis cruisers and destroyers a capability for conducting BMD operations. BMD-capable Aegis ships operate in European waters to defend Europe from potential ballistic missile attacks from countries such as Iran, and in in the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf to provide regional defense against potential ballistic missile attacks from countries such as North Korea and Iran. The number of BMD-capable Aegis ships has been growing over time. MDA’s FY2023 budget submission states that “by the end of FY 2023 there will be 50 total BMDS [BMD Systems] capable [Aegis] ships requiring maintenance support.”

The Aegis BMD program is funded mostly through MDA’s budget. The Navy’s budget provides additional funding for BMD-related efforts. MDA’s proposed FY2023 budget requests a total of $1,659.1 million (i.e., about $1.7 billion) in procurement and research and development funding for Aegis BMD efforts, including funding for two Aegis Ashore sites in Poland and Romania. MDA’s budget also includes operations and maintenance (O&M) and military construction (MilCon) funding for the Aegis BMD program.

Issues for Congress regarding the Aegis BMD program include the following:

  • whether to approve, reject, or modify MDA’s annual procurement and research and development funding requests for the program;
  • the adequacy of MDA’s cost estimating and its reporting of costs;
  • what role the Aegis BMD program should play in defending the U.S. homeland against attack from ICBMs;
  • required versus available numbers of BMD-capable Aegis ships;
  • the burden that BMD operations may be placing on the Navy’s fleet of Aegis ships, and whether there are alternative ways to perform BMD missions now performed by U.S. Navy Aegis ships, such as establishing additional Aegis Ashore sites;
  • allied burden sharing—how allied contributions to regional BMD capabilities and operations compare to U.S. naval contributions to overseas regional BMD capabilities and operations;
  • the role of the Aegis BMD program in a new missile defense system architecture for Guam;
  • whether to convert the Aegis test facility in Hawaii into an operational land-based Aegis BMD site;
  • the potential for ship-based lasers to contribute in coming years to Navy terminal-phase BMD operations and the impact this might eventually have on required numbers of ship-based BMD interceptor missiles; and
  • technical risk and test and evaluation issues in the Aegis BMD program.

Download document here.

Taiwan Must Spend More On Maritime Defense, Says Top US Navy Admiral

By Daniel Flatley (Bloomberg) Taiwan must gird itself against potential Chinese aggression through military deterrence that includes acquiring the right weapons and proper training, the top US naval officer said on…

By Daniel Flatley (Bloomberg) Taiwan must gird itself against potential Chinese aggression through military deterrence that includes acquiring the right weapons and proper training, the top US naval officer said on...

Navy Plans to Release George Washington Suicide Investigation Next Year, MCPON Tells Congress

The top enlisted officer in the Navy told a House panel it will be next year before the sea service reports its findings into a rash of suicides aboard carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73), as well as sailors’ living conditions aboard carriers undergoing extensive mid-life overhauls in the nation’s shipyards. Testifying before the House Appropriations […]

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell L. Smith addresses the crew aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) during an all-hands call in the ship’s hangar bay on April 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

The top enlisted officer in the Navy told a House panel it will be next year before the sea service reports its findings into a rash of suicides aboard carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73), as well as sailors’ living conditions aboard carriers undergoing extensive mid-life overhauls in the nation’s shipyards.

Testifying before the House Appropriations military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee, Master Chief Russell Smith said, “I think it’s too early to say it’s a problem of leadership” aboard George Washington. He was referring to the three apparent suicides that occurred in a week aboard the carrier in April.

In what will likely be his final appearance before the committee, Smith added, “I wouldn’t say Newport News [Shipbuilding] is the problem” either. He noted the yard is working on two carriers simultaneously, making parking near that yard’s gates problematic. The situation discourages sailors from leaving the place where they both live and work.

Smith, who visited the carrier in late April, said instead the sailors continue to live and work in “the heat zone.” He added that he has taken sailors’ concerns from his “all hands” meeting with the crew to senior Navy leaders for action.

Smith said “we can minimize the churn” of having to move off the ship to housing ashore, but 184 sailors opted to stay aboard George Washington likely because they didn’t want to commute back and forth to work or move several times within a few months. After another delay, work is scheduled to finish in March 2023.

The 400 sailors who were living aboard the carrier at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia were all offered the opportunity to move to housing off the ship, but 184 chose to remain aboard, he said.

In a committee better known for “brick and mortar issues,” like barracks, family housing, child care centers, dry docks, warehouses and runways, the members zeroed in on what sailors were actually doing on the ships during the overhauls and who was watching out for their mental health.

“Everybody there is working,” when the ship is in the yard, Smith told the panel. Although what a sailor is doing is different from what they enlisted for or during a deployment, he said the sailor “also has a job of maintaining the equipment” they would be using when at sea.

“Sailors are no better or worse than we were coming in,” Smith said, and noted the Navy stopped making sailors live aboard ships when they were in port as he did when he received his first two assignments. “We don’t do that anymore.”

Although circumstances for a junior, single sailor have changed, Smith stressed it was more incumbent now for chiefs and petty officers “to lean in” and look after sailors’ mental well-being.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, who just completed an inspection of Newport News Shipbuilding and the carrier, expressed similar thoughts. Like Smith at the hearing, Del Toro said in a statement Tuesday, “In the most positive sense of the word, we need to be good Shipmates.” He added, “when you notice someone in your division or work center starting to act different or something just isn’t right with them, don’t be afraid to say something directly to them or to get someone from the medical or resilience team involved as soon as possible. We sometimes call that ‘invasive leadership,’ but I think a better term is involved leadership.”

“Suicide is a massive problem,” Smith said at the hearing.

Speaking personally in his prepared remarks and again in spoken testimony, Smith said the pandemic has exacerbated the need for mental health counseling and shone a spotlight on the scarcity of providers available nationwide.

“We are in desperate need of providers, as wait times for all but the most egregious cases – those at the precipice of suicide – is averaging five to six weeks for an appointment. This lack of capacity and resulting wait times is something I can personally attest to, as I sought care last spring and had to move forward with seeing a civilian provider at my own expense – something our sailors cannot afford, and should not have to endure,” Smith said.

He told the panel that as soon as the carrier’s command requested help from the Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team (SPRINT), it sent help to the carrier to assist sailors. The team is located at the nearby naval hospital in Portsmouth, Va.

Several committee members said what happened aboard George Washington was similar to three suicides aboard carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) in 2019, when it, too, was in for an extended mid-life overhaul at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.

This week, the Navy reported that other steps have been taken to address longer-term mental health concerns and quality-of-life issues aboard ships undergoing extended overhaul. For George Washington, the Navy is installing cell repeaters in the ship’s skin, offering wireless internet and unveiling an improved morale, welfare and recreation program for off-duty sailors living on the carrier.

On cell phone connections for sailors in shipyards or on deployment, Smith said, “there is something to being connected with someone at home” that improves morale.

Suicide Prevention Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

The Navy Suicide Prevention Handbook is a guide designed to be a reference for policy requirements, program guidance, and educational tools for commands. The handbook is organized to support fundamental command Suicide Prevention Program efforts in Training, Intervention, Response, and Reporting.

The 1 Small ACT Toolkit helps sailors foster a command climate that supports psychological health. The toolkit includes suggestions for assisting sailors in staying mission ready, recognizing warning signs of increased suicide risk in oneself or others, and taking action to promote safety.

The Lifelink Monthly Newsletter provides recommendations for sailors and families, including how to help survivors of suicide loss and to practice self-care.

The Navy Operational Stress Control Blog “NavStress” provides sailors with content promoting stress navigation and suicide prevention. 

Navy Nearing 1,000 COVID-19 Vaccine Denial Separations

The Navy is inching toward 1,000 separations due to COVID-19 vaccine denial, with the sea service approving separations for another 56 sailors over the past week. The Navy currently has 980 total separations due to continued refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the service’s weekly COVID-19 update. Of the separations, 861 are active-duty […]

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Gregzon Fontanilla, from Guam, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine aboard the America-class amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) on May 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy is inching toward 1,000 separations due to COVID-19 vaccine denial, with the sea service approving separations for another 56 sailors over the past week.

The Navy currently has 980 total separations due to continued refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the service’s weekly COVID-19 update. Of the separations, 861 are active-duty sailors, while 97 are reservists. The total also includes 22 entry-level separations for sailors within their first 180 days of service.

The current separations are sailors who who have not applied for religious exemptions, as the Navy is currently suspended from separating anyone who requested a religious waiver for the vaccine due to a court ruling. However, any of the separations before the court ruling on March 28 could have included those who had requested a religious exemption and were denied.

The Navy had approved 37 religious exemptions for sailors who were going to retire or voluntarily separate from the service, but those cases were put on hold as a result of the court ruling.

The sea service has also granted 13 religious exemptions for members of the Individual Ready Reserve on the condition that they get vaccinated if called to active-duty or reserve status.

The Navy has also granted 14 permanent and 214 temporary medical exemptions for active-duty sailors and one permanent and 81 temporary medical waivers for reservists.

Cruiser USS Vicksburg Nearly Finished with Modernization Program, Set For Decommissioning

A Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser the Navy wants to decommission next year is nearly finished with a modernization overhaul that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, a service official told lawmakers today. USS Vicksburg (CG-69) is about 85 percent of the way through the cruiser modernization program meant to extend the life of the ship. “The […]

USS Vicksburg (CG-69) getting repaired at BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Va., on April 8, 2022. Christopher P. Cavas Photo used with permission

A Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser the Navy wants to decommission next year is nearly finished with a modernization overhaul that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, a service official told lawmakers today.

USS Vicksburg (CG-69) is about 85 percent of the way through the cruiser modernization program meant to extend the life of the ship.

“The cruiser Vicksburg, I think, is in that 85 percent range,” Jay Stefany, the principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, told the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee on Wednesday.

Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD-46) which is also undergoing upgrades to extend the ship’s service life is at a similar stage in its modernization, according to Stefany. He confirmed the Navy has spent close to $300 million to upgrade each ship.

Vicksburg and Tortuga are two of the 24 ships the Navy wants to decommission as part of its Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal. Both ships are undergoing their modernization programs at BAE Systems Ship Repair in Norfolk, Va.

Asked last month for the completion percentage of the two ships, a spokesperson for Naval Sea Systems Command said the Navy does not track these figures. The spokesperson said Vicksburg is slated to finish its modernization overhaul in the summer of 2023, but that the completion date for Tortuga “is under review.”

The recent budget request, which also proposed decommissioning every Freedom-class LCS currently in service, has met criticism from lawmakers who are unhappy that the Navy is decommissioning more ships in a year than it plans to buy.

During a separate House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) criticized the Navy for how it has used taxpayer funds. Granger, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the service in the last two years has spent almost $500 million to modernize Vicksburg.

“Some of these ships – especially the Littoral Combat Ships – are among the newest in the fleet. The Navy claims they don’t have enough sufficient funding to maintain and operate these ships, but that’s not the case. Instead, they’ve mismanaged billions of dollars in maintenance funding. One glaring example of this is the USS Vicksburg, a cruiser up for decommissioning this year,” Granger said.
“Since 2020, the Navy has awarded nearly $500 million in contracts to upgrade the cruiser. At a time when the ship is still in its maintenance period, the Navy is proposing to scrap it. If the Navy experts expect Congress to support its vision for this fleet, it must do a much better job of managing the inventory it has. We will not stand idly by as valuable taxpayer funds are wasted.”

Navy officials have repeatedly argued the money would be better spent on modernization efforts than on extending the life of the aging cruisers. During the March budget rollout, Navy deputy assistant secretary for budget Rear Adm. John Gumbleton said decommissioning the proposed 24 ships in the FY 2023 budget would save the service $3.6 billion across the Pentagon’s five-year budget outlook.

Seeking to justify the proposal before defense appropriators today, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said both the LCS and the cruisers would not stand up well in a potential conflict against Russia or China.

“We took a look at our topline and we took a look at a Navy that we can sustain, a Navy that we can afford. But to make it the most lethal, capable, ready navy that we can – in other words, we’re trying to field the most lethal, capable, ready Navy we can based on the budget that we have rather than a larger Navy that’s less capable, less lethal and less ready,” Gilday told lawmakers.

“So we stratified our warfighting platforms. An LCS fell at the bottom of that stratification, along with the older cruisers that have an older radar, that have leaks below the waterline, radars that can’t detect these new Chinese threats, as an example.”

The FY 2023 proposal wants to decommission nine Freedom-class LCS and axes the planned anti-submarine warfare mission package originally slated for both variants in the class.

“Much of the testing done on that module was done on LCS-3, the Fort Worth, that helped us make the determination that we should not put another dollar against that system because it wouldn’t pan out against high-end Chinese and Russian threats,” Gilday said of the ASW mission module testing. Granger was the sponsor for USS Fort Worth (LCS-3).

“So regrettably we made tough decisions in this budget proposal to decommission, or propose to decommission, ships that just wouldn’t have added value to the fight,” Gilday said. “At the same time, we’re taking that money and investing it in our priorities, which are readiness, modernization, and then capacity at an affordable rate.”

Granger expressed her skepticism about the Navy’s plans for the LCS.

“Each one of these ships has significant useful service life left. One of them … was just commissioned in August of 2020. I don’t know how we can have confidence in your request when just a few years ago at this same hearing, the Navy advocated for LCS funding with the same passion you’re now expressing to get rid of them,” she said.

Report to Congress on LPD-17 Flight II, LHA Amphibious Warship Programs

The following is the May 4, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy LPD-17 Flight II and LHA Amphibious Ship Programs: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy is currently procuring two type of amphibious ships: LPD-17 Flight II class amphibious ships, and LHA-type amphibious assault ships. Both types are built by Huntington […]

The following is the May 4, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy LPD-17 Flight II and LHA Amphibious Ship Programs: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy is currently procuring two type of amphibious ships: LPD-17 Flight II class amphibious ships, and LHA-type amphibious assault ships. Both types are built by Huntington Ingalls Industries/Ingalls Shipbuilding (HII/Ingalls) of Pascagoula, MS.

The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests the procurement of LPD-32, which would be the third LPD-17 Flight II class ship. The Navy estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $1,924.0 million (i.e., about $1.9 billion). The ship has received $251.0 million in prior-year advance procurement (AP) funding. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests the remaining $1,673.0 million needed to complete the ship’s estimated procurement cost.

Under the Navy’s 355-ship force-level goal, which dates to 2016, a total of 13 LPD-17 Flight II class ships are to be procured. The Navy and DOD since 2019 have been working to develop a new force-level goal to replace the 355-ship goal. In addition to that effort, the Navy is finalizing a study on required numbers of amphibious ships. The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission proposes truncating the LPD-17 Flight II program to three ships by making LPD-32 the final ship in the program. The Marine Corps’ FY2023 unfunded priorities list (UPL), however, includes, as its top unfunded item, $250.0 million in AP funding for a fourth LPD-17 Flight II class ship (LPD-33) to be procured in a future fiscal year.

The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget also requests continued procurement funding for LHA-9, an LHA-type amphibious assault ship. The Navy estimates the ship’s procurement cost at $3,539.2 million (i.e., about $3.5 billion). The ship has received $350.0 million in prior-year advance procurement (AP) funding and $568.6 million in prior-year procurement funding. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests a further $1,085.5 million in procurement funding for the ship. Under the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission, the final $1,535.1 million needed to complete the ship’s estimated procurement cost is to be requested for FY2024.

The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission presents LHA-9 as a ship 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.

Section 124 of the FY2021 NDAA, as amended by Section 121 of the FY2022 NDAA (S. 1605/P.L. 117-821 of December 27, 2022), provides authority for the Navy to use a block buy contract for the procurement of three LPD-17 class ships and one LHA-type amphibious assault ship.

The Navy’s LPD-17 Flight II and LHA shipbuilding programs pose multiple oversight issues for Congress. Congress’s decisions on the LPD-17 Flight II and LHA programs could affect Navy capabilities and funding requirements and the shipbuilding industrial base.

Download the document here.

Harry S. Truman Strike Group Back Under NATO Command for Neptune Shield Drills

USS Harry S. Truman returned to NATO command as the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group participates in exercise Neptune Shield, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced to reporters Tuesday. Neptune Shield is the third in a series of exercises between the United States and NATO allies. The U.S. previously participated in Neptune Challenge in […]

The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS-11), front, transits the Tyrrhenian Sea alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on May 16, 2022. US Navy Photo

USS Harry S. Truman returned to NATO command as the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group participates in exercise Neptune Shield, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced to reporters Tuesday.

Neptune Shield is the third in a series of exercises between the United States and NATO allies. The U.S. previously participated in Neptune Challenge in October 2021 and Neptune Strike from January to February 2022.

Neptune Shield is slated to last through May, Kirby said.

“This activity increases the pace and flexibility of command and control of US naval and amphibious forces between Sixth Fleet the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, operating in the Mediterranean Sea, USS Kearsarge amphibious ready group that’s operating in the Baltic Sea, along with the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit,” Kirby said.

The Harry S. Truman CSG has been operating in and around the Mediterranean since January, when it first went under NATO command as part of Neptune Strike. This is the second time since the Cold War that a U.S. aircraft carrier has been placed under NATO control.

The carrier strike group consists of Harry S. Truman, cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG-56), Carrier Air Wing 1 and Destroyer Squadron 28, which includes USS Cole (DDG-67), USS Gravely (DDG-107), USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), USS Gonzalez (DDG-66) and Royal Norwegian Navy frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen (F310).

The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group will also participate in Neptune Shield, Kirby told reporters. The ARG is currently operating in the Baltic Sea, according to USNI News’ Fleet Tracker.

USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) is set to make a port call in Stockholm, according to a Swedish news outlet. Kirby did not confirm the port visit, but he said that a visit would not have anything to do with Sweden’s interest in joining NATO.

The Kearsarge ARG consists of Kearsarge, amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24) and dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44). The 22nd MEU is also embarked on the ARG.

New Navy Unmanned Command Will Send 4 Experimental Large USVs to RIMPAC

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A quartet of experimental unmanned surface vessels will set sail for Hawaii this summer for a test of a new unit focused on ramping up the Navy’s use of drones to bolster the surface fleet’s lethality. RIMPAC 2022 will be a high-profile mission for Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1, […]

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

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A quartet of experimental unmanned surface vessels will set sail for Hawaii this summer for a test of a new unit focused on ramping up the Navy’s use of drones to bolster the surface fleet’s lethality.

RIMPAC 2022 will be a high-profile mission for Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1, which includes the trimarans USV Sea Hunter and USV Seahawk along with two Ghost Fleet support vessels Nomad and Ranger.

USVDIV-1 was formally established May 13 at Port Hueneme, Calif., under San Diego-based Surface Development Squadron 1, with the primary mission to “accelerate the delivery of credible and reliable unmanned systems in conjunction with increasingly capable manned platforms into the fleet,” Cmdr. Jerry Daley, who took the reins as its first commanding officer, said in a Navy statement.

Members of the new unit have eyes on the biennial RIMPAC – set to run from late June into early August with 27 partner nations, 42 ships, five submarines, more than 170 aircraft and nearly 25,000 participants – as the next fleet activity to help determine and define how the capabilities of the medium-sized surface drones might augment the manned and unmanned fleet.

“All four ships will be dispersed, and we’ll be working with different task force commanders during all three phases of the Rim of the Pacific exercise, both from a command-and-control standpoint and also exercising our capabilities from a payload standpoint,” Daley said Monday during a media roundtable at SURFDEVRON’s headquarters in San Diego to discuss the new unit.Daley said his staff already has integrated with San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet staff, who are in charge of RIMPAC.

“Part of our charter is figuring how we integrate with a manned force,” he said, speaking from his Port Hueneme, Calif., command.

Experimentation conducted during RIMPAC will enable USVDIV-1 to collect data to learn more about the vessels’ requirements, he noted, and ultimately help understand more about “how we integrate with the fleet moving forward for USV,” Daley said.

USVDIV-1 will be focused “exclusively” on working with USVs, said Capt. Jeff Heames, who became SURFDEVRON-1 commodore in March 2021 and last week handed over command to Capt. Shea Thompson. The new unit will advance the work that SURFDEVRON-1 has so far done and ramping up experimentation and testing with the surface fleet and providing input to the Navy’s unmanned program office.

“USVDIV-1 will be a catalyst for innovation as we employ unmanned surface capabilities in the Pacific Fleet,” Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Naval Surface Force commander, said in a Navy statement about the new unit. “The implementation of unmanned systems will increase decision speed and lethality to enhance our warfighting advantage.”

With its base at Port Hueneme, USVDIV-1 can tap and share testing and evaluation facilities used by the Navy’s unmanned undersea vehicles with Submarine Development Squadron 5, officials said. The Navy has completed and issued the concept of operations for medium and large USVs, and the CONOPS will likely be updated annually as the new unit progresses on experimentation and evaluation, officials said.

Growing the USV fleet 

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

The Navy envisions a hybrid fleet with unmanned vessels acting as an adjunct “shooter” outfitted with a magazine or providing sensors to augment manned ships with a surface action group (SAG). In such scenarios, the human would provide the command-and-control for a SAG with adjunct sensors and magazines in USVs organized around an amphibious ship or littoral combat ship, for example.

“We’re at the ground floor of discovering what we think we can do and what we think we need,” Heames said.
“If we have more USVs, we can do more experiments and we can operate with more fleet activities and we can gather more data on performance… [By doing so] we can begin to scale our learning and get faster understanding in terms of what payloads we think are most viable, in terms of how much more safe we can be, how much we can sense our environment, in terms of the sensors that we’re using.”

The pace of experimentation and testing will quicken with the recent addition of the two OSVs, obtained in March via the Navy’s Strategic Capabilities Office’s Ghost Fleet Overlord program. Those OSVs went through a retrofit that enable autonomous operations and equipping of experimental payloads.

A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September. Two existing commercial fast supply vessels were converted into unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for Overlord testing, which will play a vital role in informing the Navy’s new classes of USVs. US Navy photo.

“We expect to get three additional USVs in the next couple of years,” Heames said. Two will come from the Ghost Fleet Overlord program “and the third is being purposed-built as a prototype, from the ground up.”

“We’re growing – so that means more opportunities to take these things to sea, more opportunities to learn about how we need to operate with them with our manned Navy,” he said. “And now that we have a USV Division – command entirely focused on USVs – we think that opportunity is going to grow for us to learn more about how USVs are going to fit into the manned fleet.”

“I see some tremendous opportunity to increase the lethality of our surface forces, with some of the payloads… the operating modes that we are exploring,” he added.

By the end of 2022, Daley said he expects to have about 100 people in the unit. The plan is to increase the size of the unit with about 175 sailors by the end of 2023, he added.

Sailors will come from a variety of rates, including operation specialists, quartermasters, hull maintenance technicians, machinist’s mates, enginemen, and information and electronic technicians. The division’s surface warfare officers, he said, “will be controlling and working through both the autonomy and the operationalization of how the unmanned ships will interact with the fleet.”

Testing unique prototypes

Seahawk USV. Leidos Image

Over the past year, SURFDEVRON had been focused on “taking the vessels to sea and understanding the why behind the decisions the vessels make, the autonomy decisions that are being made – from a maneuver perspective[…] especially in the context of operating with our manned fleet,” Heames said.

“The focus was, learning how you can work together, where you would need to control one vessel or have situational awareness of what’s happening in an environment. So that’s been a real focus of effort. We’ve made some progress in that. I think the biggest progress is in understanding the data and having a pipeline to receive the data, a mechanism to store it and some professionals to do the data analytics and understand how we performed, so we can make adjustments on the next activity going out to sea.”

“We’re going to continue to do that, certainly for the next year. The big advantage is we can do more of it, with different vessels,” he said. “We also have different autonomy functions that we’re looking to advance,” so a USV at sea with instruments that sense the environment, such as radar or electro-optic sensors “understands what it’s looking at.”

That information then goes into an algorithm or system “that will make a decision on that information,” he said, but much remains to be learned when the USVs go to sea. How good are those sensors? Are there ways we need to fuse the data to better understand it?”

Each USV will be “unique” prototypes, equipped with different suites of sensors, Heames said. The plan is to put the vessels in different environments, factoring variables like weather or operations with ships or without ships, “and then go back and do the homework on which ones are performing better and make adjustments to it.”

With the capability of vessels operating in autonomous mode, where it can make decisions on its own, Heames noted, “it’s very important for us to understand why it makes certain decisions over others. So the data pipeline and the analytics decisions, either during or[…] very quickly after the fact, are critical so we can understand and make adjustments.”

He added: “We are absolutely oriented toward continuing experiments and working with the program office to better understand what the capabilities are that we need.”

Thompson takes SURFDEVRON-1 command five years after he first began working on Sea Hunter in 2017. “The progress that’s been made… is readily apparent,” he said. When he first landed eyes on the USV, “I was excited. I saw the potential of what an unmanned surface vessel can bring to enhancing the lethality of the fleet.”

Back then, remotely operating the vessel with payloads was a big step, “and “and the concepts have matured,” he said. “That was a big win back in 2017. Now we’re way past that,” with improved autonomous piloting a big advancement.

Thompson said his first exposure to USVs was during a 2017 exercise when he got to operate Sea Hunter remotely while aboard USS Sampson (DDG-102).

“I’m sitting there on the joystick, remotely controlling a surface vessel,” he said. “I may have been the first uniformed guy to actually do it. So as I come back here, I’m even more excited about what the future holds.”

 

VIDEO: Navy Commissions Destroyer USS Frank E. Petersen Jr.

The Navy commissioned its 71st Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Saturday in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday. USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121), which is named in honor of Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen, the first Black Marine aviator and three-star general, will be based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The nearly 9,500-ton ship was commissioned in front of […]

The Navy’s newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121) awaits to be commissioned in Charleston, S.C., May 14, 2022. U.S. Marine Corps Photo

The Navy commissioned its 71st Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Saturday in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday.

USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121), which is named in honor of Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen, the first Black Marine aviator and three-star general, will be based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The nearly 9,500-ton ship was commissioned in front of an audience that included both Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday.

“It’s fitting that a name synonymous with service and sacrifice be emblazoned on the steel of this American warship,” Gilday said at the ceremony, according to a Navy news release. “Sailors aboard this mighty warship will deploy wherever, whenever needed, with General Petersen’s fighting spirit and tenacity, for generations to come.”

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, as well as George Nungesser, the vice president of program management with HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding, were also in attendance.

Frank E. Petersen Jr. left Ingalls Shipbuilding in April to head to Charleston for the commissioning. It is the 33rd destroyer Ingalls built for the Navy. The shipbuilder is currently contracted to build five more as well, according to an HII news release.

The ship was sponsored by D’Arcy Neller, wife of Gen. Robert Neller, the former commandant of the Marine Corps, and Alicia Petersen, the wife of Frank Petersen.

Alicia Petersen died in September 2021 and was represented at the commissioning by her daughters, who gave the “Man our ship and bring her to life” order with Neller.

The crew of Frank E. Petersen Jr., led by Cmdr. Daniel Hancock, will give the ship its life, Neller said in her remarks.

“The namesake of this ship was a warrior,” she said, according to the news release. “He always went to the sound of the guns; he was always prepared and smart about the risks he took. You all need to be the same. Always be prepared. Work hard and when the time comes, you will be ready to go into the jaw of the tiger.”

Petersen served 38 years in the Marine Corps before retiring in 1988, according to the release. Among his accolades are the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Meritorious Service Medal.

USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker: May 16, 2022

These are the approximate positions of the U.S. Navy’s deployed carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups throughout the world as of May 16, 2022, based on Navy and public data. In cases where a CSG or ARG is conducting disaggregated operations, the chart reflects the location of the capital ship. Total U.S. Navy Battle […]

These are the approximate positions of the U.S. Navy’s deployed carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups throughout the world as of May 16, 2022, based on Navy and public data. In cases where a CSG or ARG is conducting disaggregated operations, the chart reflects the location of the capital ship.

Total U.S. Navy Battle Force:

298

Ships Underway

Deployed Ships Underway Non-deployed Ships Underway Total Ships Underway
74 17 91

Ships Deployed by Fleet

Fleet Forces 3rd Fleet 4th Fleet 5th Fleet 6th Fleet 7th Fleet Total
0 4 2 12 28 70 116

In Japan

Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6), stand in formation during a dress white uniform inspection on the ship’s flight deck on May 4, 2022. US Navy Photo

Ships of the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which include USS America (LHA-6), USS Green Bay (LPD-20) and USS Ashland (LSD-48), are in port in Sasebo, Japan.

In the Philippine Sea

Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman Christian Myers, from Las Vegas, conducts a performance test on an F/A-18 Super Hornet jet engine on the fantail aboard the aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on May 12, 2022. US Navy Photo

Aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is underway off the coast of Japan. The carrier recently completed its annual repair period in Yokosuka, Japan.

Carrier Strike Group 5

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Logan Doherty, center, from Detroit, directs hose teams in response to a simulated fire during a mass casualty drill on flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on May 11, 2022. US Navy Photo

Aircraft carrier

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), homeported in Yokosuka, Japan.

Carrier Air Wing 5

An MH-60S Knight Hawk, attached to the Golden Falcons of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, prepares to land on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) May 8, 2022. US Navy Photo

Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, is embarked aboard Ronald Reagan and includes a total of nine squadrons and detachments:

  • The “Royal Maces” of VFA-27 – Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) – from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
  • The “Diamondbacks” of VFA-102 from MCAS Iwakuni.
  • The “Eagles” of VFA-115 from MCAS Iwakuni.
  • The “Dambusters” of VFA-195 from MCAS Iwakuni.
  • The “Shadowhawks” of VAQ-141 – Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) – from MCAS Iwakuni.
  • The “Tiger Tails” of VAW-125 – Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) – from MCAS Iwakuni.
  • The “Providers” of VRC-30 – Detachment 5 – Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) – from MCAS Iwakuni.
  • The “Golden Falcons” of HSC-12 – Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) – from Naval Facility Atsugi, Japan.
  • The “Saberhawks” of HSM-77 – Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) – from Naval Air Facility Atsugi.

U.S. 7th Fleet has not specified the surface ship escorts of the Reagan CSG.

Damage Controlman Fireman Timmy Sorm, from Milwaukee, checks the spray nozzles during a countermeasure wash-down on the flight deck aboard amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA-7) on May 12, 2022. US Navy Photo

Amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) is now in the Western Pacific.

Tripoli departed Naval Station San Diego, Calif., on an independent deployment to the Western Pacific on May 2. The 45,000-ton big-deck amphibious ship has 20 F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters embarked as part of evaluating the Marine Corps “lightning carrier” concept. The Navy and Marines are testing Tripoli adjunct capability to a carrier strike group, USNI News understands.

An F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the ‘Black Knights’ of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on May 13, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is in the Philippine Sea. The CSG deployed from San Diego, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2022.

According to a Navy release, “the CSG conducted deterrence missions in the Philippine Sea through demonstration of long range maritime strikes with Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) on May 9. Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 aircraft, integral to the Air Wing of the Future, including the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and F-35C Lightning, launched from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) while underway in the Philippine Sea to conduct joint, dynamic deterrence missions with mission support and aerial refueling from Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) KC-135 Stratotankers.”

Carrier Strike Group 3

Aviation Electrician’s Mate Airman Chavrick Phillips, from Shelby, N.C., assigned to the “Tophatters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14, stows away chains on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on May 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

Carrier
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), homeported in San Diego, Calif.

Carrier Air Wing 9

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the ‘Vigilantes’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on May 12, 2022. US Navy Photo

Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., is embarked aboard Abraham Lincoln and includes a total of nine squadrons and detachments:

  • The “Black Aces” of VFA-41 Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) flying F/A-18Fs from Naval Air Station Lemoore.
  • The “Tophatters” of VFA-14 – F/A-18E – from Naval Air Station Lemoore.
  • The “Vigilantes” of VFA-151 – F/A-18E – from Naval Air Station Lemoore.
  • The “Black Knights” of VMFA 314 – Marine Strike Fighter Squadron (VMFA) flying F-35Cs from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
  • The “Wizards” of VAQ-133 – EA-18G – Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) – from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
  • The “Wallbangers” of VAW-117 – E-2D – Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) – from Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Calif.
  • The “Titans” of VRM-30 – CMV-22B – Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) – from Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
  • The “Chargers” of HSC-14 – MH-60S – Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) – from Naval Air Station North Island.
  • The “Raptors” of HSM-71 – MH-60R – Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) – from Naval Air Station North Island.

Cruiser

  • USS Mobile Bay (CG-53), homeported at Naval Station San Diego, Calif.

Destroyer Squadron 21

Capt. Brian Ribota, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 21, crosses the flight deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG-111) on May 15, 2022. US Navy Photo

Destroyer Squadron 21 is based in San Diego, Calif., and is embarked on the carrier.

  • USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), homeported at Naval Station San Diego.
  • USS Gridley (DDG- 101), homeported at Naval Station Everett, Wash.
  • USS Sampson (DDG-102), homeported at Naval Station Everett.
  • USS Spruance (DDG-111), homeported at Naval Station San Diego.

In the Mediterranean Sea

Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman Yannick Ali, from Kinshasa, Congo, assigned to the “Dragonslayers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 11, wipes down an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) on May 9, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is underway in the western Mediterranean Sea. The CSG made a port call in Naples, Italy, on May 10. This is the first visit by a US Navy aircraft carrier to Naples in six years.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has extended the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, its escorts and Carrier Air Wing 1 as a hedge against Russian aggression in Europe. Truman has spent four months operating in the Mediterranean Sea since Austin ordered the strike group to remain on station in December as Russia massed forces along the Ukrainian border.

One defense official told USNI News the carrier could remain in the region until August before returning to its homeport in Norfolk, Va.

Carrier Strike Group 8

Carrier
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), homeported in Norfolk, Va.

Carrier Air Wing 1

USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) pulls into Naples, Italy for a scheduled port visit, May 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1, based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., is embarked aboard Harry S. Truman and includes a total of nine squadrons and detachments:

  • The “Red Rippers” of VFA-11 Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) flying F/A-18Fs from Naval Air Station Oceana.
  • The “Fighting Checkmates” of VFA-211 – F/A-18E – from Naval Air Station Oceana.
  • The “Blue Blasters” of VFA-34 – F/A-18E – from Naval Air Station Oceana.
  • The “Sunliners” of VFA-81 – F/A-18E – from Naval Air Station Oceana.
  • The “Rooks” of VAQ-137 – EA-18G – Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) – from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
  • The “Seahawks” of VAW-126 – E-2D – Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) – from Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va.
  • The “Rawhides” of VRC-40 – Detachment – C-2A – Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) – from Naval Air Station Norfolk.
  • The “Dragon Slayers” of HSC-11 – MH-60S – Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) – from Naval Air Station Norfolk.
  • The “Proud Warriors” of HSM-72 – MH-60R – Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) – from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla.

Cruiser

  • USS San Jacinto (CG-56), homeported at Naval Station Norfolk.

Destroyer Squadron 28

An MH-60S Sea Knight helicopter, attached to the “Dragonslayers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 11, delivers supplies to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) on May 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

Destroyer Squadron 28 is based in Norfolk and is embarked on the carrier.

  • USS Cole (DDG-67), homeported at Naval Station Norfolk.
  • USS Bainbridge (DDG- 96), homeported at Naval Station Norfolk.
  • USS Gravely (DDG-107), homeported at Naval Station Norfolk.
  • USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), homeported at Naval Station Mayport, Fla.
  • USS Gonzalez (DDG-66), homeported at Naval Station Norfolk.
  • Royal Norwegian Navy frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen (F310).

In the Baltic Sea

USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) transits through the Danish Straits and enters the Baltic Sea on May 13, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are in the Baltic Sea. According to a Navy release, elements of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) held a training event with Norwegian Armed Forces on May 6.

“U.S. and Norwegian Armed Forces conducted cold weather training, multiple integrated live fire events, shock trauma platoon medical training, casualty evacuation drills, explosive ordnance training, and reconnaissance and marksmanship training,” reads a statement from U.S. 6th Fleet.
“The training began with the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), flagship of the Kearsarge ARG and 22nd MEU, and Whidbey-Island class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) arriving in Tromsø and Narvik, respectively, to offload MEU elements and equipment. As part of the training event, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), assigned to the 22nd MEU, flew MV-22 Ospreys and AH-1 Cobra helicopters from Bardufoss Airfield training site, between Tromsø and Narvik, transporting equipment to and from Kearsarge during the on load of U.S. Marine Corps equipment.”

In addition to these major formations, not shown are others serving in submarines, individual surface ships, aircraft squadrons, SEALs, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces, Seabees, Coast Guard cutters, EOD Mobile Units, and more serving throughout the globe.