“S” is for Safety, but also for SeaFox

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In the past, mine hunting, identification, and removal tasks were accomplished by explosive ordnance disposal divers or expensive, bulky robots. While divers are still used in identification and removal, new underwater vehicles are supporting these tasks by lightening the workload on divers, eliminating some risk for deep or repetetive dives, and serve as a quickly deployable and recoverable replacement for a heavier, more expensive submersible the U.S. Navy previously used.

To talk more on this is the executive officer of USS Gladiator (MCM 11), Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Gleason.

-Fleet LT

8785963966_8f688b2e78_zMine hunting is the mission. Identification and neutralization is the method. Maintaining open, safe sea lanes is the goal. In the past, these tasks were accomplished by explosive ordnance disposal divers or the antiquated SLQ-48 Mine Neutralization Vehicle. While these units fit the bill and accomplished the mission, the Navy is always looking to complete tasks and missions more quickly, cheaply, and safely.

Enter the SLQ-60  Surface Mine Neutralization System — SeaFox.

Using cuing from the ship’s sonar, the investigation variant of SeaFox can identify possible mines using its onboard sonar and camera, feeding live data via fiber-optics to a display in the Combat Information Center. That information is then compared to the ship’s variable depth sonar sweep of the area to determine if the UUV and ship’s sonar operator are looking at the same object. This entire process can be accomplished in 10 to 12 minutes, much more quickly than employing a dive team or using the legacy MNV.

8747200332_ae6efc249b_zIf a mine is visually identified, a Combat Round can be prepared to destroy the threat. Using this one-shot solution to neutralize a mine threat is safer than deploying divers less time consuming that re-arming a MNV for neutralization.

As a MCM executive officer, having SeaFox aboard adds a more robust hunting capability to our innate sweeping capability. Overall, this is a very capable system that my crew and I are proud to have aboard and train with.

Seafox: Multi-purpose, Multi-use, Force Multiplier.

– Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Gleason, Executive Officer, MCM Crew Reaper.

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In the Shallows: Patrol Coastal Pride

27FEB2013 (52)130508-N-PK218-109Why focus on Patrol Coastal ships again? They’re an important part of protecting shipping while in transit, and protecting infrastructure at sea and in the shallows. To further emphasise this, Fleet Forces recently announced that 2 additional PCs will be sent to operate with Manama, Bahrain as their forward deployed home along with a maintenance support team.

The at-sea portion of IMCMEX 13 is just past its center point and PCs have played key roles. Here to talk about what they are contributing to the exercise is Capt. Stephen Evans, commander of Destroyer Squadron 50.

-Fleet LT

120620-N-WB378-044Over 40 nations have joined us here to participate in a wide spectrum of operations designed to protect the routes of international commerce and trade. IMCMEX is a defensive exercise that focuses on keeping vital sea lanes open so the world economy is not affected by acts of terrorism or criminal activity. A stable world economy is dependent upon the unencumbered movement of food, consumer goods, raw materials and energy products through the Arabian Gulf and its associated chokepoints. To ensure these goods continue to freely move through this region, the global community must work together not only during exercises but everyday to keep the sea lanes open.

While Mine Countermeasure ships and divers from the navies of nations throughout the world conduct mine clearing operations other ships will be watching over them to keep them safe. The U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship (PC) sails on the frontline of this defense patrolling the waters of the Arabian Gulf and working with both Gulf Region States and coalition allies performing Maritime Security Operations (MSO) and Maritime Infrastructure Protection (MIP). The PCs are perfectly suited for the complex waters of the Arabian Gulf, where over 80% of operations are in water less than 39 feet, the shallow draft alone gives these ships an edge in the region. Fast and agile with punching power, they have a distinct advantage making them a vital part of operations like Mine Countermeasure Defense.

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As multi-mission ships, the Patrol Coastal ships offer a reliable platform that is flexible in operations and an invaluable force multiplier. While they won’t sit center stage during the IMCMEX, they are a key component to it’s safe and successful execution. I have been proud to watch these small ships shine.

-Capt. Stephen Evans, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 50

Adding Industry to a Military Exercise is Good for the Environment

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IMCMEX is a multinational, defense-based military exercise aimed to address and counter threats in the maritime environment. Industry operates a crucial energy trade and 30% of the world’s crude flows through the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. So how could military and industry combining efforts be good for the environment? Teamwork of course.

FactoryEmerging and established economies the world over have an energy dependency on fossil fuels, some less than others, but the fact remains that with such a large demand these energy sources must be carried in large volumes to help keep operating and transport costs low. Nearly 1/3 of all energy consumed comes from oil or refined oil products, and in 2012 reached 88 million barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons). With all of this oil being pulled from the ground, all over the world, and transported to the countries that require it, there are remarkably few accidents, spills or explosions throughout the process.

effectofoilspillMany would say that even one incident a year, a decade is disastrous to the environment, and they would be right. Though an industrial scale accident, or losing a supertanker to a mine or similar attack, would affect oil prices somewhat; the price of one tanker (aprox. $120M ship + $55M in oil) is relatively inconsequential to the global oil trade (aprox. $9bn/day). The environment is not so lucky.

NOAA_oilspill_1The international shipping community has significantly reduced the number of marine spills over the last decade. Even with this dramatic reduction the prevention of these events must remain a priority. One tanker full of oil can be devastating to coastal and marine wildlife in the short-term, and can change entire ecosystems if not addressed and rectified. There can be many contributors to a spill, be it accidental, malfunction or an act of violence; and several can be prevented. This is why industry training with global militaries is good for the environment.

8267579164_4e311fb809_cA significant portion of IMCMEX 13’s agenda is focused on maritime security operations, to include a commercial shipping escort through a simulated mine field. While mines are not the only form of attack these merchant ships are vulnerable to (waterborne IEDs, explosive laden small boats, piracy, etc.), it is a demonstration of the preventable disaster that would adversely affect the environment. Similar events are being held at offshore oil stations as part of a maritime infrastructure protection focus against violent extremists damaging or controlling important infrastructure in the region.

It is far easier to prevent an environmental disaster than to clean it up, and the Oil Spill Response Seminar and table-top exercise during IMCMEX was designed to address protection and prevention concerns, and how to mobilize an effective response to an oil spill should prevention efforts fail.

oil-spill-clean-up-2Alex Walker, a representative of industry for the exercise, led the Oil Spill Response discussion. During the multiple presentations, agencies like a UK-based Oil Spill Service Center based, Navy Coordination and Guidance At Sea and the Maritime Liaison Office; leaders covered international policy, safety of life at sea, communication challenges between militaries, agencies and industry, and what mariners can do at each level of the problem to preserve life and minimize the effects that a damaged crude carrier would have on the environment and other shipping.

Walker went on to comment during an interview that any response effort is about the safety of people and the environment. “The Navy has always taken environmental concerns very seriously,” Walker said. “This forum gives us the opportunity to explore that aspect in more detail.”

Oil spills are complicated. Their behavior relies on  surface tension of the oil product, specific gravity of the product, the viscosity and multiple environmental factors (an overview of behavior and effects).  To make things harder, oil characteristics and environmental factors dictate what response options would be most effective in treating the crisis (a simple interactive guide). These responses take a great deal of cooperation and coordination and Oil Spill Response discussions like in IMCMEX 13 are crucial to an effective, international, military and industry combined response.

While safety of mariners is paramount, concern for how we are affecting the environment is ever-present.

More information about oil spill response is available via the U.S. EPA and NOAA  response pages, as well as International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and many other pages.

-Fleet LT

The Benefit of Big Meetings: MIPS

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Meetings are designed to share information. Whether its superior to subordinate to give direction and orders, subordinate to superior to upload finished tasks or issues to the higher eschelon brain space, or even to generate a communal thought through brainstorming and collaboration; these are all part of an information exchange process that has occured since earliest life developed ways to communicate and work together.

dispersants7Big meetings, like those between corporations, agencies and militaries are no different. At their base level, they are an information exchange, but on a massive scale. True, these types of gatherings tend toward the brainstorm and communal thought area of exchange, but that is a great thing when it comes to military and inter-agency meetings. Sharing best practices, techniques, and technology for endeavors like Maritime Infrastructure Protection leads to a general increase of knowledge and ability across assembled participants.

While world militaries are not best known for sharing, for concerns like piracy and Infrastructure Protection; a coordinated, multinational response is vital to protect commercial and military assets from threats in the maritime environment. This need for cooperation and coordination are what drive gatherings such as the Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium (MIPS).

mmsThis year marks the sixth MIPS here in Bahrain, and this year 130 participants from 41 countries and multiple industry’s attended from 13 – 15 May, as part of International Mine Countermeasures Exercise. Information, best practices and technology were shared via presentations, static displays and expert panels. Presentations included Liquid Natural Gas Shipping and Safety Concerns, unmanned underwater vehicle developments, Cyber Threats to Maritime Infrastructure, Law of Naval Mining, Marine Mammal Systems, and Oil Spill Response: Security Considerations and Overview of International Response Systems to name a few.

AXR_0816The panel of senior leaders included Vice Adm. John Miller, commander, Naval Surface Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime forces; 2 GCC navy officials and 2 representatives of industry participants. They primarily discussed the importance of maritime cooperation at sea; oil spill response and threats to energy carriers; and information exchange between military, agency and industry partners to enhance the effectiveness and timliness of coordinated efforts.

AXR_0601While no physical forces were moved, no rounds fired, and little money spent; Symposiums and large-scale meetings bring to light national and international concerns, act as a venue for adressing them, and pave the way for solving them should concerns become a reality.

Meetings don’t have to be tedious or boring. When the international community meets to discuss security concerns, they certainly have my interest.

-Fleet LT

Afloat Forward Staging Base: One year on Station

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Good day readers! Just got back from being underway on USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) for two days and had the opportunity to see some impressive events, such as “pouncer” ops where divers are dropped from a helo to put a fake charge on a practice mine shape; scan eagle deployment; and a sea fox mission to find a practice mine shape to calibrate sonar for the day.

Despite the interesting capabilities that I saw during my short time aboard, the changes in the ship and the crew, since I was aboard during the last IMCMEX, were profound. Much of the civilian and Navy crew had changed out on thier regular rotaion cycles, but the teamwork and integration between the two elements of crew were more evident.

Here to speak today about the afloat forward staging base,  and what he has seen during the year that he has been the commanding officer, is Capt. Jon Rogers. Thanks for the embark opportunity Sir.

-Fleet LT

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With IMCMEX 2013 underway, I hope this blog connects our partner friends, share thoughts and answer any questions about The Proud Lion’s new life as the Navy’s first dedicated afloat forward staging base.

7895208222_6d025c9ccd_bIMCMEX 2012 was a real treat for Ponce’s crew because we met so many people from different cultures and worked with their technologies and equipment. We also exchanged thoughts on the noble mission of mine countermeasures and the importance of removing the indiscriminate mine threat from our planet’s waters. We intend to take this year’s performance to another level.

Beyond just IMCMEX, as I reflect on this past year, Ponce has brought many proud achievements for my personal commanding officer’s log. My fondest memories are observing first hand the incredible talents, resourcefulness and hard work of our salty military and civilian mariner crew that brought a ship destined for decommissioning back to full operational capability. Ponce has awed many visitors – each with a genuine curiosity and some misperceptions of this “thing” called an afloat forward staging base.

I wrote this blog to satisfy that curiosity, clear the misperceptions and share information about Ponce, her crew, her concepts and her mission.

Here are five facts about USS Ponce (Pon-say):

1. Ponce is a USS ship commanded by a U.S. Navy captain and is manned by 55 Sailors and 165 civilian mariners. The average crewmember’s age aboard Ponce is 43 years old.
2. Ponce will celebrate her 42nd birthday July 10, 2013. Thanks to all who have sailed aboard Ponce throughout the years!
3. When Ponce was commissioned in 1971, she had a core crew of 508 personnel. When she was re-designated as an afloat forward staging base on April 16, 2012, her crew totaled 360. Today, she sails with 220 Sailors and civilian mariners.
4. Ponce’s Navy crew consists of individual augmentees with seven-, nine- and 11-month rotations.
5. Ponce has stand-alone Wi-Fi in the ship’s Internet café.

130514-N-JL506-109Intel Specialists Make Waves Aboard Ponce

Ponce takes great pride in recognizing the outstanding accomplishments achieved throughout the year. Intel Specialist Chief Cedrick Thomas, soon to be Chief Warrant Officer Thomas, and his two intelligence specialists, IS2 Billy Kingry and IS3 Joshua Emanis, are the sole reason Ponce earned the prestigious Surface Force Intelligence Excellence Award for 2012.

The award recognizes Pacific and Atlantic Fleet ships that contribute significantly to afloat intelligence readiness. This is a real Navy success story for Thomas, Kingry, Emanis and their families! I hope their families realize how significant their achievements have been on the home front and battlefront!

The successes of Ponce during her first year rest entirely upon the shoulders of her crew. I could not be more proud to be her commanding officer.

-Capt. Jon Rodgers, USS Ponce

Old, but not outdated: Mine Countermeasures

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In a world of high-tech missiles, radars, stealth design and navigation systems, the simple mine is often seen as an archaic throwback to the Second World War, Vietnam and other 20th-century conflicts.

8267579164_4e311fb809_cCheap, easy to produce, and horribly effective, naval mines are still a staple armament of non-state actors, terrorist organizations and states around the globe. The rumor of a mine in a restricted area of water can mean the complete closure of that waterway, and if deployed in one of the vital maritime choke points – the Malacca Straits or the Suez Canal, the Straits of Hormuz or the English Channel – the consequences for maritime trade could be huge.

Mine countermeasures operations do exactly what it says on the tin: they allow navies to detect and defeat the threat posed by all types of naval mines. From active minehunting weapons like Seafox and Pinguin to defensive measures like hull degaussing, mine countermeasures is an ever-developing and ever more vital field of modern naval warfare.

7787643722_46b373226d_c8018935001_37d21281b2_cWarships that are designed to partake in mine countermeasures are split roughly in to two camps: Minehunters and minesweepers. Both these types of warship engage in active countermeasures – that is, they seek out and destroy or disable mines. Mine sweepers use wires dragged behind them to either set off or cut loose mines that they pass near, whilst mine hunters use sophisticated sonar and other equipment to detect individual mines before destroying them with the aid of either divers or unmanned underwater vehicles.

The Royal Navy’s Hunt-Class Mine Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs) HMS Atherstone and HMS Quorn are first-rate examples of minehunting vessels; equipped with the Seafox unmanned underwater vehicle and a time of highly-trained Mine Clearance Divers, they are effective against almost all mine types. Using their Type 2193 sonar, the crew of the MCMV can detect mines up to a kilometer away. Once detected, the Hunt-class will either dispatch Seafox – an autonomous, fire-and-forget minehunting drone that can both locate a target and blow it up with an explosive charge – or a team of human divers to disable or destroy the mine, clearing the way for commercial shipping to pass safely through the area.

Even ships without an active minehunting or sweeping role can adopt mine countermeasures to help protect themselves when passing through threatened waters. Passive countermeasures are the name given to techniques ships can use to make themselves less likely to set off or attract mines. Degaussing, for example, involves passing an electric current through a ship’s steel hull to reduce the vessel’s magnetic signature and thus making it less likely to set off a magnetically-activated mine; many MCMVs take this to the extreme and remove their magnetic signature almost entirely by building the hull itself out of wood or glass-reinforced plastic.

7975956599_5bf030d93e_bOther forms of passive countermeasures include specialist non-acoustic propulsion systems such as the Votih-Schneider propeller, which limits the vessel’s sound signature and makes the MCMV much less vulnerable to acoustic mines – mines activated by the sound of a ship passing overhead.

IMCMEX brings together the mine countermeasures capabilities and experience of around 40 different nations, and is one of the world’s foremost exercises for practicing cooperative anti-mine warfare. Through exercises like this, the international community is able to ensure that it is ready to respond to a mine warfare threat anywhere in the world.

– Luff, RN

Heavy Lift Helos Pulling Sleds for a Good Cause: Global Commerce

minesweeping2Though the majority of mine countermeasures (MCM) missions are accomplished at sea, the ‘Blackhawks’ of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM 15) and the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters they employ are paramount to the success of these missions.

mh53%203_jpgThe MH-53E is the largest helicopter in the U.S. inventory, with a maximum takeoff weight of 69,750 pounds, overall length of 99 feet, and a rotor diameter of 79 feet. It is capable of carrying over 50 passengers, 25,000 pounds of cargo, and flying over 700 miles without refueling. The U.S. Navy routinely uses this heavy lift capability for humanitarian relief missions and the MH-53E is the only aircraft that can conduct MCM operations by capitalizing on thier increased time-on-station capabilities and utilizing various towed devices including mine hunting sonar and mechanical minesweeping gear.

HM 15’s mission is “To maintain a world-wide 72-hour airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) rapid deployment posture and a four aircraft forward-deployed AMCM and vertical onboard delivery (VOD) capability in the Arabian Gulf,” and will focuses on Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) during IMCMEX. They will also be conducting logistics/vertical onboard delivery (LOG/VOD) support, to include personnel and material transfer.

MH-53-Sea-Dragon-helicopter-030_previewAMCM operates in tandem with surface mine countermeasures (SMCM) and underwater mine countermeasures (UMCM) to provide a complete MCM effect. Each platform has particular advantages; however, the major value that AMCM adds is speed and range of operations. The MH-53E is capable of flying over the horizon at 150 knots, providing MCM support more immediately than any other platform. Once on station, aircraft tow the devices at speeds up to ten times faster than surface ships, allowing AMCM to provide a rapid, effective response to any threat around the world.

– in-vesTED