The Navy nabbed a lot of headlines again this week. Leading the way is news that the Navy’s 10th San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock will be named for Rep. John Murtha – a story first reported by Scoop Deck’s own Phillip Ewing. An unfortunate T-39 crash killed four in Georgia also made headlines, as did the Thursday announcement that changes were coming to the performance evaluation system and advancement policy (check Monday’s Navy Times for more on that). And the president also reaffirmed his 2011 Afghan withdrawal plan this week.
Here’s seven stories in seven minutes from the past seven days that you may not have seen, but are worthy of notice:
1. Vinson and Virginia arrive home.
The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson arrived Monday at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., completing a three-month transit from Virginia. No doubt many other carrier crews were among those cheering on the docks, as the carrier will soon offer relief to the West Coast deployment schedule.
The ship and its 3,500 crew members left Norfolk on Jan. 12, the day an earthquake struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Vinson was among the first U.S. ships to respond, providing fresh water, food and medical supplies. Its helicopters, with Carrier Air Wing 17, transported injured victims, some of whom were treated aboard the carrier.
The ship also participated in Operation Southern Seas 2010, conducting bilateral training and air exercises with Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru and Ecuador.
Vinson’s arrival also meant Strike Fighter Squadron 81 and Airborne Early Warning Squadron 125 ended their three month deployments aboard the carrier. The Sunliners returned to Naval Air Station Oceana and the E-2C Hawkeyes went home to Norfolk.
The attack sub Virginia on Tuesday returned to Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., after a six-month deployment. The crew traveled more than 37,000 miles during the first major deployment for a Virginia-class submarine. Virginia conducted operations in the European and Central Command Areas of Responsibility.
2. Pentagon to adopt uniform rules on guns
Pentagon leaders talking about gun control offers plenty of room for comedic relief. However, this move has some merit.
The Defense Department will adopt a comprehensive policy governing how privately owned guns can be carried or stored at military installations. The actions are largely the result of the shooting deaths of 13 people last year at Fort Hood, Texas.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, a disgruntled Army doctor charged in the deaths, had little or no access to military firearms in his job as a psychologist. But he was able to buy two handguns and bring them onto the base.
The new policy will likely require guns brought onto a base to be registered with military police.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered that an interim weapons policy be in force by June, and a permanent one is due early next year.
3. China Enters The Aircraft Carrier Club
China’s growing blue-water naval strength soon may be augmented by the country’s first aircraft carrier, according to this piece by James C. Bussert. The carriers are expected to be commissioned around 2014 and about 50 carrier-qualified pilots and aircraft will be available for the first ship.
4. Lawmakers cautious on Pentagon Cyber Command
OK, so most sailors aren’t going to worry about a Chinese carrier. But most are a bit more concerned about cyber threats, and rightly so.
Interestingly, many senators on Thursday said they will move cautiously on the new military command established to tackle such threats. They are concerned about how the U.S. would conduct electronic warfare. Technology has outpaced the development of policies to guide computer-based combat. Perhaps that is because these same lawmakers are too busy forcing the Pentagon to buy an extra F-35 engine it doesn’t want, but I digress.
Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, who has been tapped to head the Pentagon’s Cyber Command and also serves as director of the National Security Agency, was the recipient of the senate heat.
Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin said operations to combat such attacks “could have broad and damaging consequences.”
Alexander agreed there is no easy answers, but said the U.S. must fire back against cyber attacks swiftly and strongly, and should act to counter or disable a threat even when the identity of the attacker is unknown. He also said the U.S. should not be deterred from taking action against countries such as Iran and North Korea just because they might launch cyber attacks.
5. First P-8A Poseidon Arrives At Pax River
The first P-8A Poseidon landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on Monday, the latest milestone for the aircraft that will replace the P-3 Orion as the fleet’s primary patrol and reconnaissance plane.
The Navy plans to buy 117 P-8As. Flight tests started about six months ago. A fleet replacement squadron should be up and running in 2012, and the first P-8A squadron is scheduled to be operational by 2013.
The P-8 is a militarized version of the Boeing 737 and is primarily designed for hunting submarines, but it will also have extensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The P-3s it will replace spend most of their time over desert sands as opposed to oceans blue.
6. Lockheed F-35 Projected Cost May Rise An Additional $51 Billion
Scoop Deck hopes you’re seated, because here comes some shocking news: The cost of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may cost more than estimated.
This latest inflation for the beleaguered program could be as much as a whopping $51 billion beyond the $328 billion estimate given to Congress April 1, according to Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News. Granted, this is a worse-case Pentagon scenario … but those are usually offered with good reason.
If this happens, each JSF would cost $155 million, 91 percent more than the $81 million projected when the program began in 2002. With that in mind …
Air Force and Navy officials backed the fighter again on Tuesday and stressed that they were monitoring the program carefully. Navy officials called the inevitable fighter gap “manageable,” and predicted the peak shortfall could be managed to about 100 aircraft in 2018 — far below the 177 aircraft shortfall service officials were expecting not too long ago. Their solution? More service life extensions to existing planes – which cost $30 million each and add only 1,500 flight hours per plane.
The Navy would be better served by instead buying more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for $60 million each? Sure, it’s twice the cost, but only 38 percent of what a JSF is likely to run.
But sorry, Hornet lovers. Navy officials said they would not purchase additional Super Hornets beyond the 515 already planned.
7. Enterprise is getting back to sea –seven months behind schedule.
“Big E” kicked off a fast cruise exercise Sunday. The primary purpose is to shake off the crew’s cobwebs and make sure the sailors and ship are ready for longer sea trials.
The six-day exercise is taking place in the Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipyard, Va. The middle two days will serve as maintenance days to fix any issues that arise. Once completed, the 48-year-old Enterprise will leave the shipyard and begin sea trials.
Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in April 2008 was awarded a $453.3 million contract for the 16-month extended dry dock availability. That contract is now seven months overdue, and 11 contract modifications have increased costs by $140.1 million.
The contract modifications were the result of “growth work” — additional work that is discovered during depot time, said Margaret Mitchell-Jones, spokeswoman for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.
The news was a little late for Nimitz, which deployed from San Diego on July 31, and saw its cruise stretched to eight months due to Enterprise’s delay. The delay also forced the Dwight D. Eisenhower group, having deployed for five months in 2009, to deploy again to the Middle East in January. The Harry S. Truman, which was fully qualified and ready to deploy in October, will instead deploy in April. It will conduct its second eight-month deployment in as many years.
And in closing, a Scoop Deck Bravo Zulu to:
The Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate Ingraham, which returned to Everett, Wash. Saturday following a seven-month deployment in the 3rd, 5th and 7th Fleet Areas of Responsibility. In the 5th fleet AOR, Ingraham deterred smuggling and piracy.
More than 40 Sailors from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 12, who returned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story April 8, after a six-month deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. These sailors responded to more than 380 improvised explosive device calls and disposed of more than 6,500 items of potentially hazardous unexploded ordnance.
The amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, amphibious transport dock Cleveland and dock landing ship Rushmore return to San Diego Wednesday after a six-month deployment to Middle East and Southeast Asia. The crews conducted multilateral training exercises, provided theater security and took part in several humanitarian projects.
The frigate McInerney also completed a six-month deployment to U.S. Southern Command Thursday as it celebrated three decades of service. On this, the ship’s 14th deployment, the crew disrupted nearly 10 tons of narcotics and did four multinational exercises. Of note was the ship’s use of the MQ-8B Fire Scout, a Vertical Takeoff and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which scored its drug bust April 3.
The fast attack submarine Jefferson City arrived home Wednesday from a six-month deployment to the western Pacific. The nearly 140 sailors covered more than 40,000 nautical miles. In Bahrain, the sailors worked at a center that helps children with learning and communication disabilities. In Singapore, the sailors went to Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator to help complete a cleaning project in and around the historic church.
And fair winds, following seas to:
The frigate Vandegrift, which departed San Diego Monday for a deployment to the 7th Fleet AOR in the Western Pacific. The crew of approximately 25 officers and 185 sailors will participate in the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise. Deploying with the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate are the Scorpions of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light 49, Detachment 6.
The fast attack submarine Tucson departed Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam April 8 for a deployment to the western Pacific region. It’s the sub’s first deployment since 2006. Tucson underwent a 23-month depot modernization period at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.
Six Navy ships led by Destroyer Squadron 24 arrived in Faslane, Scotland, April 9 to participate in Joint Warrior 10-1, a multinational semi-annual exercise held off the coast of Scotland. The two-week exercise will challenge ships with Fleet Irregular Warfare Training, stress individual platforms with disaggregate operations and hone the Navy’s skills working with allies.
The frigate Klakring, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 42, Detachment 10 and Destroyer Squadron 40 are conducting Southern Seas 2010. The ships will sail the waters from the East Coast of the United States to the Caribbean, Central and South America from April through September to strengthen relationships with regional partner nations and improve operational readiness for all assigned units.