United States Navy (USN) : News & Discussions

RISING SUN

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Dec 3, 2017
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Navy Makes Unusual Public Display Of Its Secretive Seawolf Submarine's Presence Off Norway
The U.S. Navy has released a number of pictures of the first-in-class USS Seawolf surfaced in a fjord near Tromsø, Norway last week. The service is typically very tight-lipped about submarine operations, in general, and even more so about its three highly advanced and secretive Seawolf class boats, which are known to be heavily involved in specialized intelligence activities, among other missions. This very rare public appearance in Scandinavia would seem to be intended, at least in part, to send a message to the Russian government about American underwater capabilities in the region.

The Navy first announced that Seawolf had visited Norway and was otherwise operating in that region on Aug. 21, 2020, which was itself an unusual public disclosure. The pictures of the submarine making what was described only as "a brief stop for personnel" appeared online on Aug. 25. It is very uncommon to see official photographs of this submarine, or the others in its class, outside of exercises or its homeport at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington State. Defense journalist Chris Cavas, who follows naval issues closely, noted on Twitter that this also appears to be the first time the Navy has released photos of Seawolf anywhere, in any context in five years.

“USS Seawolf’s deployment from Bangor, Washington, to the U.S. 6th Fleet demonstrates the Submarine Force’s global reach and commitment to provide persistent and clandestine undersea forces worldwide to execute our unique missions with unrivaled readiness," Navy Vice Admiral Daryl Caudle, the service's top submarine officer, said in a statement. “Our undersea warriors are the best in the world in submarine warfare and are equipped with unmatched capabilities designed to enhance our Navy and multiply the Joint Force’s effectiveness in competition and conflict.”



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USS Seawolf on the surface in a fjord near Tromsø, Norway on Aug. 21, 2020.

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“The arrival of Seawolf compliments our already robust undersea warfare capabilities and demonstrates our continued commitment to providing maritime security and deterrence throughout the region,” Navy Rear Admiral Anthony Carullo, head of Submarine Group Eight, added. Carullo is also the commander of Task Force 69, U.S. 6th Fleet's standing undersea warfare task force, to which Seawolf is presently assigned. U.S. 6th Fleet is responsible for overseeing all Navy activities in and around Europe and Africa.


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"These submarines are exceptionally quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors," the Navy wrote in its official news story on the Seawolf's stop in Norway. "Though this class of submarines lacks vertical launch systems, it is armed with eight torpedo tubes and can hold up to 50 weapons in its torpedo room."

Seawolf, as well as her sisters, USS Connecticut and USS Jimmy Carter, were originally conceived primarily as advanced nuclear-powered attack submarines. However, ballooning costs together with drawdowns across the U.S. military following the end of the Cold War led the Navy to abandon plans to acquire a full fleet of 29 of these boats, with production ultimately ending after just these three examples were built. As a result, the boats have since taken on developmental and special mission roles.

While submarines, in general, are inherently very capable intelligence-gathering platforms, to begin with, the Seawolfs are understood to have significant extra modifications enabling them to carry out more specialized tasks within this mission set. It is publicly known that Jimmy Carter features a unique 100-foot long extension called the Multi-Mission Platform (MMP), which you can read about in more detail in this previous War Zone piece, and it is an open secret of sorts that it is primarily focused on espionage missions, such as inspecting, manipulating, and even recovering objects of interest sitting deep on the ocean floor.

The Seawolfs, designed originally as purpose-built hunters, are also especially well known for their ability to cruise quietly under the thick ice in the Arctic for extended periods of time, making them ideal for patrolling and otherwise monitoring naval activity there. This region has historically been an ideal place for submarines from various countries to operate discreetly. The Navy's newer Virginia class boats are also defined as attack submarines, but are very much multi-purpose types that are not as well acclimated to operations in icy waters.


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The Seawolf class submarine USS Connecticut seen after surfacing through the ice in the Arctic Ocean during the Navy's most recent Ice Exercise (ICEX) in March 2020.

As such, that Seawolf is operating off northern Norway is not surprising. As the Barents Observer reported, Tromsø, is in far-northern part of that country near where the Norwegian Sea meets the Barents Sea. The area between Norway's coastline in that general area and the country's Bear Island in the Barents Sea much further to the north is known as the Bear Gap and is a common route for Russian submarines heading to and from their bases in northwestern Russia.


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A map showing Tromsø in northern Norway, as well as Bear Island in the Barents Sea. The area in between is known as the Bear Gap.

By every indication, the Navy's very unusual announcement of Seawolf's presence in this area is meant to communicate a message to the Kremlin, but it is not entirely clear what is going on now specifically that might such a signal. The American submarine's deployment to the region does follow years of U.S. military officials, as well as those from NATO, warning about significant increases in Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic Ocean and adjacent bodies of water.

It would make good sense then that Seawolf is there to provide is more specialized capabilities to help track those goings and comings. This could be especially valuable for monitoring Russia's newer nuclear submarines, such as its Project 955 Borei class ballistic missile boats and its Project 885 Yasen class guided-missile types.

In addition, The Russian Navy's Northern Fleet formally received the first of the improved Project 955A Borei-A subclass, the Knyaz Vladimir, in June and also operates the only Yasen class submarine, the Severodvinsk, presently in service. Both of these types are reportedly very quiet and difficult to detect and track. These developments, among others, have prompted the U.S. Navy to begin looking at developing a new Seawolf-like advanced attack submarine.

At the same time, Seawolf's surfacing in Norway also came a day before six nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers touched down in the United Kingdom for a short-term deployment that also looked to be a signal aimed squarely at Moscow. Those bombers subsequently trained with Royal Norwegian Air Force fighter jets.

Whatever Seawolf is or isn't doing in the region right now, or how long it has been there already, it is very clear that the Navy wanted to make sure everyone, including the Kremlin, knows that the boat and its advanced capabilities are out there sailing silently under the waves.
 

RISING SUN

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USS Vinson Flies F-35s & Quietly Readies For New Refueling Drone
WASHINGTON: Earlier this month, the USS Carl Vinson broke new ground by becoming the first refitted aircraft carrier to fly F-35s as part of its normal flight operations. If current plans hold, it is likely to become the first to fly the Navy’s experimental refueling drone in a. few years as well.

The 36-year old Vinson just wrapped up a major refit to accommodate the specialized needs of the F-35, and is practicing launches and recoveries now off the California coast. While the F-35 work garnered most of the headlines, critical work was also performed to prepare the ship to operate the MQ-25 Stingray drone, a move that would add hundreds of miles of range to carrier air wings.

The ship will deploy with F-35s in 2021, marking the first deployment of F-35Cs. Marine F-35Bs have already deployed on amphibious ships USS Wasp, America, and Essex to the Middle East and Pacific over the past two years. But those vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have different requirement than the Navy’s more traditional launch and recovery aircraft, which are flying from the Vinson.

The Stingray would likely fit into these flight operations by acting as an extra sensing node in the sky, pushing data back and forth between crewed and autonomous surface vessels and giving the Navy and Marine Corps another intelligence gathering asset. As a tanker, it will also extend the range of the Navy’s carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and F-35 fighters by hundreds of miles.

Some of the work on the Vinson involved establishing an Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center on the ship, along with new network infrastructure and command and control equipment.

Most of the focus on the Navy’s unmanned efforts have focused on its planned fleet of small, medium, and large unmanned surface vessels. In July, the service awarded L3 Technologies Inc. a $34.9 million contract for a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel as part of plans to build about 40 in coming years. Current plans call for the ships to have a displacement of roughly 500 tons. The medium ships are thought to skew more toward mission modules revolving around intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads and electronic warfare systems.

Earlier this month, the Navy awarded several shipbuilders contracts worth a cumulative $41 million to develop requirements and early designs for a new class of Large Unmanned Surface Vessels. The ship is envisioned as a critical part of a radically modernized fleet that will rely heavily on unmanned ships to scout ahead of manned vessels, conduct electronic jamming and deception, launch long-range missiles at targets found by other forces, and keep Chinese and Russian ships and submarines away from American carrier strike groups.

The Stingray made its first two-hour flight in September 2019, controlled by Boeing pilots on the ground. It is slated to begin a new round of flight tests this fall.

An $805 million contract awarded to Boeing in 2018 will cover design, development, fabrication, test and delivery of four Stingrays, leading up to what is expected to be a $13 billion program for 69 operational aircraft and several testing assets.

A June Government Accountability Office report warned that if the work wasn’t performed on the Vinson and the next carrier USS George H.W. Bush, the Navy might have to extend the drone’s development testing by up to three years, but Navy officials confirmed Friday that the first of two upgrades were made to the Vinson, and the program remains on track.

The Stingray is scheduled to achieve initial operational capability by 2024, followed by the integration of the drones into the Navy’s air wings.
 

RISING SUN

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Dec 3, 2017
8,102
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USS Vinson Flies F-35s & Quietly Readies For New Refueling Drone
WASHINGTON: Earlier this month, the USS Carl Vinson broke new ground by becoming the first refitted aircraft carrier to fly F-35s as part of its normal flight operations. If current plans hold, it is likely to become the first to fly the Navy’s experimental refueling drone in a. few years as well.

The 36-year old Vinson just wrapped up a major refit to accommodate the specialized needs of the F-35, and is practicing launches and recoveries now off the California coast. While the F-35 work garnered most of the headlines, critical work was also performed to prepare the ship to operate the MQ-25 Stingray drone, a move that would add hundreds of miles of range to carrier air wings.

The ship will deploy with F-35s in 2021, marking the first deployment of F-35Cs. Marine F-35Bs have already deployed on amphibious ships USS Wasp, America, and Essex to the Middle East and Pacific over the past two years. But those vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have different requirement than the Navy’s more traditional launch and recovery aircraft, which are flying from the Vinson.

The Stingray would likely fit into these flight operations by acting as an extra sensing node in the sky, pushing data back and forth between crewed and autonomous surface vessels and giving the Navy and Marine Corps another intelligence gathering asset. As a tanker, it will also extend the range of the Navy’s carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and F-35 fighters by hundreds of miles.

Some of the work on the Vinson involved establishing an Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center on the ship, along with new network infrastructure and command and control equipment.

Most of the focus on the Navy’s unmanned efforts have focused on its planned fleet of small, medium, and large unmanned surface vessels. In July, the service awarded L3 Technologies Inc. a $34.9 million contract for a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel as part of plans to build about 40 in coming years. Current plans call for the ships to have a displacement of roughly 500 tons. The medium ships are thought to skew more toward mission modules revolving around intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads and electronic warfare systems.

Earlier this month, the Navy awarded several shipbuilders contracts worth a cumulative $41 million to develop requirements and early designs for a new class of Large Unmanned Surface Vessels. The ship is envisioned as a critical part of a radically modernized fleet that will rely heavily on unmanned ships to scout ahead of manned vessels, conduct electronic jamming and deception, launch long-range missiles at targets found by other forces, and keep Chinese and Russian ships and submarines away from American carrier strike groups.

The Stingray made its first two-hour flight in September 2019, controlled by Boeing pilots on the ground. It is slated to begin a new round of flight tests this fall.

An $805 million contract awarded to Boeing in 2018 will cover design, development, fabrication, test and delivery of four Stingrays, leading up to what is expected to be a $13 billion program for 69 operational aircraft and several testing assets.

A June Government Accountability Office report warned that if the work wasn’t performed on the Vinson and the next carrier USS George H.W. Bush, the Navy might have to extend the drone’s development testing by up to three years, but Navy officials confirmed Friday that the first of two upgrades were made to the Vinson, and the program remains on track.

The Stingray is scheduled to achieve initial operational capability by 2024, followed by the integration of the drones into the Navy’s air wings.
Navy Establishes First Squadron To Operate Its Carrier-Based MQ-25 Stingray Tanker Drones
Effective today, the U.S. Navy has officially established the first squadron that will operate its future MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based unmanned tankers from Boeing. The service does not expect to begin test flying more refined MQ-25 prototypes from actual carriers until the end of next year, at the earliest. As such, this unit will be focused in the meantime on training personnel to be as ready as possible to operate and maintain those drones when they begin arriving in the coming years.

The Navy first began the formal processing of standing up Unmanned Carrier Launched Multi-Role Squadron 10, abbreviated VUQ-10, in August, according to an official internal notice. That document says the official establishment date is Oct. 1, 2020, and that the unit is located at Naval Base Ventura Country in California, which includes Naval Air Station Point Mugu. A detachment of Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19), the Navy's first MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drone unit, also calls Point Mugu home.


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The notice also says that VUQ-10 is assigned to the Navy's Airborne Command & Control Logistics Wing (ACCLOGWING), which presently oversees the service's E-2 Hawkeye and C-2 Greyhound fleets. The Wing's website already says that it is involved in the Stingray drone program through the MQ-25 Fleet Integration Team (FIT).
From ACCLOGWING, the rest of VUQ-10's chain of command then goes first to Naval Air Forces Pacific and then U.S. Pacific Fleet. This appears to be purely for administrative purposes. The Navy has said in the past that the Nimitz-class carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS George H.W. Bush, both of which are homeported in Norfolk, Virginia on the East Coast of the United States, would be the first to receive the necessary equipment to operate the MQ-25s.


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VUQ-10's official role will be as the so-called Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for the MQ-25, making it responsible for training crews to operate the drones, as well as ground personnel to maintain them. Standing up the FRS now will "allow personnel time to attain advanced qualifications ahead of aircraft delivery," according to the Navy notice.

That being said, depending on the overall size of the MQ-25 fleet, initially, detachments from VUQ-10 may also have an operational role. "To conduct, through self-sustaining detachments, long-range aerial refueling support to joint force maritime component commanders, carrier strike groups, and naval task forces as directed by numbered fleet commanders," is the unit's official mission, per the official document regarding its establishment.

It seems likely that the squadron will also be heavily involved in the development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures around the operation of the drones and their place in the Navy's future carrier air wings. Being based at Point Mugu would give the unit easy access to the Navy's expansive training off the coast of Southern California, where carriers and other vessels, as well as the service's own aircraft and those from other branches of the U.S. military, regularly train.

The Navy has said that it expects to buy at least 72 Stingrays, for a total cost of around $13 billion, and that it hopes to reach initial operational capability with the type in 2024. At present, Boeing is under contract to build four Engineering Development Model (EDM) prototypes, the first of which it hopes to deliver next year. For more than a year now, the company has already been conducting various ground and flight tests using a demonstrator drone, known as T1.


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Boeing employees attach a probe-and-drogue refueling pod to the T1 demonstrator drone that company has been using to support the development of the MQ-25.

The primary mission of the Stingrays will be to providing aerial refueling support to carrier air wings, a role presently filled by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets carrying buddy refueling stores. The MQ-25 will allow those manned fighter jets to focus on other missions and otherwise reducing the strain on those aircraft. The drones are also expected to significantly increase the overall reach of the carrier's fixed wing strike aircraft.


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There is already discussion, however, about using these unmanned aircraft in other roles beyond tanking, including for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The Navy has also said that it expects drones, including designs beyond the MQ-25, to become an increasingly larger and more important part of carrier air wings in the future.

VUQ-10 will play an important role in laying the groundwork for future unmanned operations from carrier decks, broadly.

The squadron, and the personnel that will be assigned to it, now looks set to blaze the trail for the MQ-25s, as well as subsequent carrier-based unmanned aircraft, which are set to fundamentally change the character of the Navy's future carrier air wings.
 
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RISING SUN

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Check Out How Rusty And Battered USS Stout Looks After Spending A Record 215 Days At Sea​

It's amazing what the crew of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Stout (DDG-55) has pulled off. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world, impacting their fellow sailors on other ships in unprecedented ways, Stout sailed on... And on... And on. This ship stayed at sea for a whopping 215 days straight and she has the wear and tear to show for it. The fighting ship looks like a set from a dystopian naval thriller, streaked in rust, her hull dinged and battered from the hard deployment.

The ship didn't pull into a single port between early March and her arrival in Rota, Spain on October 3rd. In that period of time, she spent her time escorting ships, including Wasp class amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) and the Nimitz class aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68), as well as executing a slew of other tasks in the 2nd, 5th and 6th Fleets' areas of responsibilities. In that time, Stout executed three dozen consecutive underway replenishment cycles and executed maintenance that is usually done in port, while remaining at sea. The Navy stated the following in a release:

"As COVID-19 made frequent port visits unsafe, Stout competed the first modern Mid-Deployment Voyage Repair (MDVR) period at sea, spending a week executing scheduled maintenance and preservation to maintain mission readiness while deployed. Throughout the deployment, Stout’s technicians executed depot-level repairs on vital engineering and combat systems equipment."

Amazing.


U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Pastrick
Stout finally home, her bridge and radar arrays streaked in rust.
The previous record for consecutive days at sea was held by the Nimitz class supercarrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Ticonderoga class cruiser USS San Jacinto, both of which Stout supported on her cruise. Those ships had spent 206 days at sea due to the same circumstances. Prior to that, the record was 160 days.
The weathered destroyer finally pulled into Naval Station Norfolk on October 11th, 2020, ending her historic deployment. She hadn't been home since mid-January and traveled over 60,000 miles on her extended voyage.
So, how did the crew stay sane bottled up for hundreds of days on a warship out at sea? The Navy writes:

"During that period the ship conducted morale events, like swim calls and steel beach picnics... To allow the crew time to relax and reenergize, they had a 'rest & reset' period at sea."

A for how rough the ship looks, we asked our friend, Navy veteran, Defense News reporter, and the king of 'running rust' commentary, David Larter, his thoughts:

"She looks like she was put through the wringer. Look, they haven't been in port, haven't been able to do much topside preservation, I imagine. She gets a pass. But these long deployments and 208-day underways are going to take a toll on these ships inside and out. It's honestly impressive they kept a quarter-century old ship in running form that long! But the Navy will have to pay the piper. This is unsustainable."

He's absolutely right when it comes to the sustainability of a fleet being pushed to the edge and beyond when it comes to deployments and operations tempo. This is especially relevant considering the service's high ambitions of maintaining a future fleet of 500 ships, a goal that sits in stark contrast to the number and readiness of support and maintenance facilities available to maintain even the aging fleet the Navy already has, which is under 300 ships.
It also speaks to the retention of sailors that are being asked to work harder and longer, and, in these latest cases, seeing little of the world in the process. Regardless of the technology available today, the Navy still runs largely on raw manpower. Pushing sailors to the brink over and over again to contend with rising threats, the need to be seemingly everywhere, and now COVID-19, could have major readiness implications down the line.
Regardless, Stout's crew deserves an extremely well-earned rest—on land. By the looks of it, so does the 26-year-old ship.
 
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