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USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Conducts First Missile Launch
By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman J. Scott St. Clair, USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Public Affairs

USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, At Sea (NNS) -- USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (CVN 77) successfully fired two Evolved NATO Sea Sparrow missiles and two Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) for the first time, to conclude its first Combat Systems Ship's Qualification Trials (CSSQT), June 23.

CSSQT is part of the series of qualifications and certifications the aircraft carrier must undergo in preparation for her upcoming maiden deployment.

According to Combat Systems Officer, Cmdr. John B. Vliet, CSSQT is a combined effort between the Combat Systems, Operations and Weapons departments to test the aircraft carrier's self-defense systems.

"It's an end-to-end testing of the Combat Systems Suite, to include tactics, techniques, and procedures," Vliet said. "It's an operational verification of the ship's warfighting and self-defense capabilities. Combat Systems with Operations department has worked around the clock for the last six months, grooming equipment and training for this exercise. More than 200 personnel have directly or indirectly supported this evolution."

Of those 200-plus personnel, two of the most directly involved were Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Ezekiel S. Ramirez, work center supervisor for the Evolved NATO Sea Sparrow Surface Missile System, and Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Ryan P. McWilliams, work center supervisor for the RAM system.

The Evolved NATO Sea Sparrow missile is a semi-active missile that requires feed from directors to locate its target, and the RAM is a passive missile, meaning the missile uses built-in sensors to home in on targets.

All of the missiles used during the launch were telemetry missiles, which are live missiles that have the warheads replaced with data recovery technology used to gauge accuracy.

Ramirez and McWilliams, on board experts for the missile systems, said that the launch was the culmination of months of hard work and preparation that included more than 40 maintenance checks, going aloft to fix radar, multiple pre-fire checks, and 21 "detect-to-engage" pre-fire drills.

"We've been preparing for this evolution ever since the ship left the shipyard and we took ownership of the system," said McWilliams. "This was one of the hardest evolutions Combat Systems department will have to do during the existence of this aircraft carrier."

Prior to the launch, Ramirez and McWilliams were responsible for loading the two launchers for each system.

"The NATO Sea Sparrow Missile system holds eight missiles in each launcher and the RAM uses 21 missiles in each launcher," said Ramirez. "It's a lot of work for one launch, but when we deploy we will have to load a total of 58 missiles."

Ramirez stressed the significance of the successful missile fire, what it meant for the entire command, and for the small group of 14 Sailors directly involved with operation of the missile systems.

"It's a pretty a big accomplishment," he said. "We are the aircraft carrier's first and last line of defense. This test is the way we prove that the self-defense systems work. We're finally doing our job."

Directing the crew in the Combat Direction Center (CDC) were the Blue and Gold team Tactical Action Officers (TAO), Lt. Chris Caton and Lt. Jeff Moen of the Operations department. The CDC Officer Cmdr. Les Spanheimer credits proactive tactical leadership and outstanding teamwork with the successful missile test.

"Lt. Caton began training our tactical watchstanders with live aircraft while the ship was still being outfitted in the shipyards," said Spanheimer. "That proactive tactical development combined with a perfectly groomed weapons system helped us demonstrate today how very capable this ship is."

"The test involved two watch teams made up of 13 to 15 people," Caton said. "During the exercise the watch teams are responsible for communicating with Range Control, tracking and data-linking the targets and engaging those threats when they enter our engagement envelope. We've been preparing for this for well over a year, putting in long hours."

Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW/AW) John L. Rodriguez-Hardy and Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Jason E. Pugh, members of the Gold Team, said the reason for two watch teams was to create two unique scenarios for each missile system. They said that the watch teams acted as the communications link between combat systems and the weapons systems.

Rodriguez-Hardy and Pugh described the long hours of preparation that went into their pivotal roles in the evolution.

"We've performed more than 80 hours of pre-fire maintenance on all weapons systems, 40 hours of system testing and 20 hours in briefs and debriefs," said Rodriguez-Hardy, the defense weapons coordinator for the Gold Team. "It's a big stress relief to know that we're capable of defense," he added.

Pugh, the Gold Team NATO supervisor's console operator, noted that the success also had an impact on the morale of the operators and crew.

"This test makes or breaks the defense mentality of the entire ship," he said. "It's the first step in a trust-building foundation, between the systems operators and the rest of the crew."

The lengthy systems certification process, which involved weapons onload and system approval from Carrier Strike Group 2 and the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV), directly involved the aircraft carrier's Weapons department.

According to Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class (AW/SW) Chris J. Morrison of Weapons department, the certification involved every member of the Weapons Inventory Control.

"We had to verify and requisition the exact missiles being used in the launch," he said. "Once missiles were on board, we were responsible for turning them over to Combat Systems personnel. From there we inspected, stowed and moved the missiles to the launchers."

In addition to all the preparation that went into the test, Vliet described how the systems operators had to be fully prepared to handle any situation.

"The operators and technical experts have got to be ready and fully understand all of the dud and misfire procedures in the event of an equipment or missile casualty," Morrison said.

Ramirez reaffirmed the team's readiness with confidence.

"We're fully trained and capable to handle misfires," he said. "We're ready no matter what happens. We are here to defend the ship. We're ready and willing to do our job."