ENEMIES LURK BELOW
It was an epic finish, akin to a half court buzzer beater during the NBA finals. Sailors and civilians alike huddled around consoles, their breaths growing shallower as seconds ticked by. They gave suggestions, discussed various solutions, and began to worry, “Will this happen today?” The big screen gave off an eerie glow in the dimly lit Combat Information Center. The clear sunny day outside gave no indication of the storm raging inside. The watch standers who were earlier hunched in their seats while sipping energy drinks to remain alert were now sitting high in their chairs and ready to pounce. Amidst exhausted watch standers, an unforgiving environment, and a demanding timeline, the cell doors opened and unleashed fury. The Vertically Launched Anti-Submarine Rocket exploded with all of MOBILE BAY’s spirit behind it, screaming across the sky with a plume of smoke in its wake. Combat Systems Ship Qualification Trials
For the week of July 26–29, MOBILE BAY was once again underway for Combat Systems Ship Qualification Trials (CSSQT), this time turning her eyes beneath the ocean waves in the silent world of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). In preparation for the CSSQT events, MOBILE BAY’s ASW team conducted maintenance and firing scenario rehearsals alongside CSSQT engineers for the previous four weeks. The CSSQT ASW team, headed by Derek Leek of Naval Undersea Warfare (NAVSEA) arrived on board Monday, June 28. From June 28 to July 2, the main focus of the team was material checks of equipment. During these maintenance checks, the NAVSEA team collected data used to troubleshoot the new systems. Once a submarine officer of eight years, Mr. Leek now brings his expertise to assist ships on the waterfront. The CSSQT team, making use of the Sonar Technicians and Gunner’s Mates, tested multiple facets of the ASW Combat System. MOBILE BAY fired air slugs from port and starboard torpedo tubes and transmitted SONAR. All checks were vital pre-requisites to the upcoming live fire events of torpedoes and a rocket toward the end of July. All of the preparation was extremely necessary to pull off this very rare opportunity.
“By far, the most exciting event during the Undersea Warfare Portion of CSSQT was the live firing of a Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine Rocket (VLA),” said MOBILE BAY Commanding Officer, Capt. James Housinger. “We prepared extensively for our over-the-side torpedo shots, our one air launched (from an HSL-45 helicopter) torpedo, and the VLA. VLA shots are few and very far between for the Fleet. Contributing to the uniqueness of this shot was the fact that we conducted it in a tactical setting. Many past VLA shots were done to test the operability of the weapon from launch to target acquisition, and therefore ship sensor data and ASW team analysis was removed from the equation. In our firing, we used sonobuoys from the helicopter, processed through the helicopter and ship to provide an accurate location, course and speed, we achieved attack criteria, and fired.”
During the second week of their time on board, Mr. Leek and the CSSQT team switched roles from technicians to trainers. Mornings and afternoons, the Combat Information Center (CIC) was filled with Sonar Technicians and Operation Specialists practicing tracking and firing scenarios. During these scenarios, the team needed to find the underwater target, maintain an accurate track of it, and position the ship in an ideal location to fire. The performance of the watch standers from a distance could be likened to actors rehearsing a play. While remaining tactically aware, watch standers read aloud from a script of events. Due to the lack of spare range time available for each event, watch standers needed to be able to make a smooth transition from one step in the sequence to the next. When it came time to perform live at the end of July and fire multiple exercise torpedoes and a VLA, the watch team could afford no mistakes. Over the Side
0630, July 27, 2010. It was time to put to the test all they had trained. As the Operation Specialists prepared the Digital Dead Reckoning Table, Lt. j.g. Harold North, his arms crossed with a headset encompassing his ears, looked on with determination in his eyes. The Sonar Technicians had spent the previous night loading six Recoverable Exercise Torpedoes (REXTORPS) into the port and starboard torpedo magazines, making MOBILE BAY fully loaded for battle. Upon the Anti-Submarine Warfare Coordinator’s command, all stations commenced event 53T1.
Sailing on the Southern California Offshore Range (SCORE – the area of the Southern Californian Pacific Ocean used for Undersea Warfare training), the ship’s objective was to detect, track, and attack the MK 30 Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Target System (ATS). To track the MK 30 ATS, MOBILE BAY used her AN/SQS-53D SONAR in passive and active modes with three watch standers intently scouring different bearings. When the MK 30 ATS was launched from SCORE that morning, the chase was on.
Lt. j.g. North maneuvered the ship aggressively all morning. The Sonar Technicians achieved detection and the entire ASW team made preparations to attack. To fire on the MK 30 ATS, the team needed to obtain an accurate firing solution, pass that solution to SCORE to receive firing permission, and request batteries release from the Captain. Because of the involved process, it could take up to 30 minutes to fire on the target. This posed serious issues for the ASW team, because the MK 30 ATS was set up on run patterns and would change course much like an enemy submarine.
The first launch came off at 1300. Everyone sat higher in their seats and become more confident in the day’s outcome. The second launch came off 30 minutes later. Now the team’s momentum doubled. That afternoon the ASW team made up for the morning’s lost time and fired off their REXTORPS. At 1600, when the smoke had cleared, a small sigh of relief could be heard, but no one celebrated. The real test would come tomorrow. Golden Opportunity
Lone Wolf 51 landed on the flight deck at 0830 the next day to receive fuel and one last brief for the day’s events. The Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System helicopter was to be the key component of today’s events. Lone Wolf 51 was armed with numerous sonobuoys and one REXTORP, the same variety that MOBILE BAY shot the day prior. Today, death would come from above. After refueling, Lone Wolf 51 took off and MOBILE BAY deployed a MK 39 Expendable Mobile Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Target (EMATT).
Using the sonobuoys from Lone Wolf 51 and active SONAR from MOBILE BAY, the ship quickly located the EMATT and vectored the helicopter in for the kill. Lone Wolf 51 launched her REXTORP. With less than two hours available, it was time to fire VLA.
Lone Wolf 51 continued to drop buoys in patterns to localize the EMATT. MOBILE BAY’s crew removed the majority of firing safeties until the only safeties preventing the VLA’s launch were the Fire Inhibit Switch and the final button push by the Underwater Battery Fire Control Operator.
The rehearsal went too smoothly. The EMATT was easily tracked, held by sonobuoys and active SONAR. The ASW team proceeded down the script and launched a simulated VLA. Immediately following the simulated launch, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Coordinator called out “Commence Event 53V2, the VLA live fire.”
The EMATT was already held by the ship’s sensors. The Boatswain’s Mate on the Bridge passed over the 1MC that a VLA would be launching soon. The ASW team began to step down the firing script with grace. 60 minutes remaining. CIC grew quiet.
“What’s the issue?” the Captain’s voice came over the net.
“We’ve lost contact, Sir,” Lt. j.g. North reported.
The silence continued, except for the frantic workings of the Anti-Submarine Tactical Air Controller. Operations Specialist Second Class Jennifer Korringa was in communication with Lone Wolf 51, passing orders, and reporting to Lt. j.g. North. Her actions and pace mimicked that of the superhero Flash, moving about at lightening speed, nearly lurching ahead to the next step before completing the last. While she fought, the atmosphere was quite the opposite in SONAR Control. The SONAR Technicians were eerily silent, listening and watching intently, looking for any sign of underwater contact.
40 minutes remaining. It began to look as if MOBILE BAY would not be launching the VLA. The noise level in CIC rose as varying suggestions were issued to the operators from all sides. “Try this…do that…have you looked there?” As the launch threshold was nearing, MOBILE BAY made contact. The orders were passed down by excited watch standers, whose voices were on the edge of cracking. SCORE confirmed the location and Lt. j.g. North requested batteries release from the Captain. One second passed. Two seconds.
All eyes in CIC were glued to the video screens where the camera was panned to the aft launcher. “10…9…8……3…2…1…weapon away!” The cell hatch opened and the planning, training, and sweat of the past month culminated in the VLA erupting into the sky and arching over the horizon. Cheers erupted and operators gave each other high fives while diligently continuing to track the target. The crew just witnessed an event few Sailors will ever see in their career, and the impression will forever live in their memories. MOBILE BAY herself bore a scar from the historic occasion. A series of ash-black burn marks scarred the aft launcher, reminding all who saw it of the day when “Batteries Released” was issued on the enemy lurking below.