Expeditionary Warfare Today

The following blog was written by Maj. Gen. Timothy C. Hanifen, Director, Expeditionary Warfare.

Shipmates:

It is an exciting time in Expeditionary Warfare, and 2013 is going to be a very productive year.  Our amphibious fleet remains a key component of the Global Force for Good; combat built and prepared platforms, operating forward throughout the world providing an unmatched flexible response force in partnership with our United States Marines.  In November of 2012, the LHA-6 underwent an Operational Assessment as it moves towards a projected delivery in 2014.  The LHA-6 and LHA-7 amphibious decks will have enhanced aviation capabilities that will enable the MEU-ARG team to operate a composite Air Combat Element of  28 aircraft and five different type-model-series aircraft or up to 23 F35B Joint Strike Fighters. The LPD-17 continues to enhance amphibious operations due to its robust communications suite and cutting edge technologies allowing it to be a stand-alone expeditionary platform when required.  N95 recently delivered the USS Anchorage (LPD 23) and USS Arlington (LPD 24) to the fleet where they will add increased capacity and capability to our modern, amphibious fleet. We have also completed 7 of 12 mid-life upgrades for the reliable LSD 41/49 class ships.  As well, to ensure closure of the last few miles, N95 is working to ensure our LCAC platforms receive service life extensions and that we successfully replace the venerable LCU. The much needed connector improvements will enhance operations from the sea and ensure that no shore is too distant. Despite fiscal uncertainty, the amphibious fleet will remain capable and responsive as it always has.

 

A helicopter approaches the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) off the coast of Bellows Air Force Station on Oahu during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released)

 

We are also particularly excited by developments in Mine Warfare.  I’m encouraged that America’s Navy will continue to lead the world in ensuring freedom of navigation by developing and employing the world’s most effective mine countermeasures capability. In 2012 we were able to ensure forward positioning of our trusty Avenger class minesweepers to the Arabian Gulf.  As we begin returning those ships and crews, we are also beginning to field unmanned mine hunting systems from a variety of platforms.  As we bring more unmanned systems on line, we will be able to provide equivalent mine countermeasure capabilities and improved capabilities in the MCM mission package for LCS.  One of these new systems is Seafox, a small unmanned underwater vehicle that can be launched from a variety of platforms.  Seafox will be able to transmit video to operators to immediately identify, classify, and neutralize a variety of mines.

Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) live fire testing was completed this month marking another step in fielding this impressive war fighting system to the fleet. This new technology will allow rapid neutralization of sea mines from the MH-60S Nighthawk helicopter.

Last fall, we conducted an International MCM Exercise in the CENTCOM AOR.  All eight of our MCM-1 class ships, the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) PONCE, MH-53E Super Stallions, and a host of international partners conducted a very successful coalition mine counter measures exercise.  USS PONCE and RFA CARDIGAN BAY were the Mine Warfare Command Ships in the Gulf of Oman and the Gulf, marking the first time two disaggregated Mine Warfare Commanders were exercised simultaneously.

 

Sailors aboard the mine countermeasures ship USS Avenger (MCM 1) lower a mine neutralization vehicle into the water. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian A. Stone/Released)

 

We are making great strides in technology.  In the next two years, we will be fielding advanced side-scan and synthetic aperture sonars, enabling us to take a photo-quality sonar picture of the ocean bottom. Sonar data of this detail will essentially give our analysts on ships and ashore the ability to rapidly identify and classify mines.  We are also working hard to improve our data transfer capabilities within the MCM force, leveraging commercial technology to share critical MCM data throughout the force.  My team is also working with Navy Mine and ASW Warfare Center, Fleet Forces, Pacific Fleet, and OPNAV N2N6 on ways to rapidly share MCM data in a coalition environment.  Our technology advances are intended to provide you, the warfighter, the ability to conduct Mine Warfare in the same manner as other warfare areas.

Additionally, OPNAV N95 continues to annually support Naval Special Warfare Command with service common capabilities that include tactical communications equipment, night vision equipment, small arms and ammunition, recompression chambers, tactical vehicles and additional common systems in use by other Navy components. Our support to Naval Special Warfare provides critical support to the growing importance of our nation’s special operations community.

Navy expeditionary combat forces are receiving an infusion of innovation and equipment to support ongoing operations and future roles and missions. With an eye toward warfighting, MK 18 unmanned underwater vehicles systems and portable mine neutralization systems, which enable expeditionary forces to detect, locate, identify, and neutralize sea mines are currently undergoing Fleet-conducted testing for near-term deployment. Also, six new 85 foot MK VI patrol boats will be delivered to the Coastal Riverine Force in the next few years.  These boats provide operational commanders a capability to persistently patrol shallow littoral areas beyond sheltered harbors and bays, and into less sheltered open water for the purpose of force protection of friendly and coalition forces and critical infrastructure.

In order to remain prepared for all contingencies and as operations in Afghanistan wind down, Navy expeditionary combat forces are re-constituting and re-capitalizing so that they may resume Navy core missions that have been mitigated over the past decade.  In response to the new Defense Strategic Guidance and the related Pivot to the Pacific, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Pacific was created to provide administrative control for Navy expeditionary forces – more than 7,000 members of the Naval Construction Forces, more than 1,300 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) operators and support staff and 2,300 Coastal Riverines – assigned to the Pacific theater.

Finally, the staff of Expeditionary Warfare will continue to seek out and find the best path towards resourcing the platforms and equipment that will enable our fighting sailors and Marines to win our nation’s battles.  Our motto is “Find a Way or Make One”.  We will remain energized and true  to these guiding words.

 

T.C. Hanifen
MajGen, USMC
Director, Expeditionary Warfare
OPNAV N95