By Maj. Gen. T.C. Hanifen, U.S. Marine Corps
Director, Expeditionary Warfare
“Find a Way or Make One” is the motto for the OPNAV 95 Expeditionary Warfare team, and OPNAV N95 continues to remain innovative, productive and forward-thinking as we move through this critical time. In this dynamic environment, characterized by increasingly required specialized skills, cost pressures, rising expectations and ever more scarce resources, success requires delivering to our fleet more timely and more productively. While OPNAV N95 is not immune to the challenges of sequestration, I am confident that our key programs will emerge and will meet current and future Warfighting needs.
Mine Warfare Strategy and Amphibious Fleet.
Our mine warfare strategy and amphibious fleet remain key components of our National Military Strategy, critical to exploiting the sea lines of communications maintaining a relevant presence and unmatched flexible response and deterrence around the globe. Our Navy-Marine Corps team, from the sea, provides a full range of capabilities to secure our national interests from partnership building and humanitarian assistance through landing a credible combat force on a hostile shore.
Our investment in mine warfare continues to make great strides.
In 2012, the Navy was able to deploy additional Avenger-class minesweepers to the Arabian Gulf. As the ships and crews return, the Navy is fielding innovative new mine hunting and neutralization systems from a variety of platforms. These systems are unmanned and will be able to provide similar mine countermeasure capabilities and improved capabilities in the MCM mission package for littoral combat ships.
Seafox, one of the Navy’s new systems, is a small-unmanned underwater vehicle that can be launched from MCM-1s, MH-53Es and small craft by explosive ordnance disposal technicians. Seafox will be able to transmit video to operators in order to immediately identify, classify and neutralize sea mines.
Interoperability with Partner Nations.
Interoperability with partner nations is a key to deterring and defeating mine threats. In the last international MCM exercise in the Central Command area of operation, every Bahrain-based MCM-1 class ship, the Afloat Forward Staging Base (interim) Ponce, MH-53E Sea Dragons, and more than 30 international partners participated. USS Ponce and RFA Cardigan Bay were the mine warfare command ships in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf. The Navy’s ability to use coalition flagships and other maritime assets is a key tenet in the single naval battle construct. There will be a United States-United Kingdom MCM exercise conducted this April and another multi-national exercise in May. These exercises will serve as a test bed for improved command and control connectivity within the mine countermeasure force.
Data Transfer Capability.
It’s not enough to share command and control. We see a need to improve our data transfer capability within the MCM force. I have a team 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. As we improve our command and control, and data flow, we will collectively maintain and improve our ability to assure unfettered access of the seas against a mining threat.
The LHA-6 and LHA-7 amphibious decks will have enhanced aviation capabilities that will enable the amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit 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 LHA-6 continues to move forward towards a projected delivery in 2014. 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.
USS Arlington (LPD 24) was commissioned April 6 and PCU Anchorage (LPD 23) will be commissioned May 4. These newest members of our fleet bring increased capacity and capability to our modern, amphibious fleet. OPNAV N95 kicked off the Analysis of Alternatives for the LX(R), the future replacement for the dock landing ships, to ensure that the newest class of amphibious warships brings exceptional capability with a reduced total ownership cost.
Amphibious warfare command and control capability is a priority for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. OPNAV N95 is currently conducting a coordinated effort to improve the amphibious command and control technical capabilities, doctrine and concepts of operations, at the individual ship operations level, the amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit level, and larger operations up to the expeditionary strike group/Marine expeditionary brigade level.
Landing Craft, Air Cushion Platforms.
Additionally, OPNAV N95 is working to ensure our Landing Craft, Air Cushion platforms receive service life extensions, that the planned LCAC successor, the Ship-to-Shore Connector (or LCAC-100), remains on track for initial operational capability in 2020, and that the venerable Landing Craft Utility is successfully replaced. This much needed connector recapitalization will enhance operations from the sea and will ensure that our naval expeditionary forces have the organic surface mobility necessary to transition naval presence to influence events ashore. Despite fiscal uncertainty, the amphibious fleet will remain capable and responsive to today’s challenges.
Mobile Landing Platform.
The Mobile Landing Platform core capability set will provide an enhanced throughput capability for the Maritime Prepositioning Force. It will facilitate delivery of vehicles, equipment, personnel and supplies between the sea base and restricted access locations ashore. The MLP Afloat Forward Staging Base variant will act as a mother ship hosting an airborne mine countermeasure capability as well as select Special Operations Force mission sets. The MLP Program is comprised of four ships (MLPs 1-4) across two variants, in support of the MPF and AFSB operations. Three of the four ships have been awarded and are under construction; the fourth is a planned award. MLP 1 and MLP 2 will be outfitted with a core capability set, providing a pier in the ocean to support transfer of equipment at sea in non-anchorage depths and delivery of equipment from over-the-horizon through restricted access environments. MLP 3 and MLP 4 will be built with AFSB components, primarily to support mine countermeasure and Special Operations Force missions.
OPNAV N95 continues to support Naval Special Warfare Command with service common capabilities that include unmanned aircraft systems, tactical communications equipment, small arms and ammunition, night vision equipment, recompression chambers, tactical vehicles and additional common systems in use by other Navy components. Additionally, OPNAV N95 recognizes the growing demand on Naval Special Warfare Command and Special Operations Command in the ever-changing security environment we now live. OPNAV N95 is working more closely with them to inculcate their requirements into future ship designs, so they can be employed in a manner that maximizes their full potential.
Mine Neutralization Systems.
Navy expeditionary combat forces support global missions by deploying security, construction, explosive ordnance disposal, logistics and training units operating as complementary components of a small, rapidly deployable combat support force. Two MK 18 unmanned underwater vehicles systems, which enable expeditionary forces to detect and locate sea mines, are currently completing user-operated evaluation to validate the technology’s applicability to mine hunting operations. Portable mine neutralization systems will be delivered this month to fleet explosive ordnance disposal operators for immediate use in re-acquisition, identification, and mine neutralization. These capabilities and refined mission prioritizations, for the more than the 20,000-member Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, are enabling the Navy to provide Warfighting capability globally and to maintain a maritime presence in the Arabian Gulf region and Asia Pacific. NECC forces also are still supporting land combat operations in Afghanistan and in the Philippines.
The OPNAV N95 team has set the bar high, seizing on new and creative opportunities to achieve stellar results. They consistently identify and refine outcomes through proactive and ongoing dialogue with partners. Their pursuit of relevant innovation and subject matter expertise is broad and deep, and is coupled with engagements and rigorous testing to ensure that solutions to the fleet can be delivered efficiently and rapidly. OPNAV N95 will continue to seek out and find the best path towards resourcing platforms and equipment that will enable our fighting Sailors and Marines to win our nation’s battles.
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