Java Sea, Indonesia -- As part of Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training (CARAT) 2015, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) embarked 13 specially-trained Navy personnel from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) - Far East Detachment in Okinawa.
The team of Sailors brought with them an arsenal of five BQM-74E rocket propelled drones, similar in appearance to small tomahawk missiles. These specially designed drones launch and fly maneuvers mimicking the profiles of an inbound hostile missile, allowing surface ships to engage the drone and test their self defense counter-measures and weapons systems.
“We came out here to get this job done safely,” said Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Jason Davidson, leading chief petty officer from PMRF. “It is really a crawl, walk, run mentality when it comes to planning and training. We spend months planning, rehearsing, unpacking and breaking down the equipment.”
As one of the planned bilateral events for CARAT 2015, the team was tasked to launch a drone from Germantown’s flight deck to conduct a missle-targeting exercise with the Indonesian Navy. They would then remotely control the drone to simulate attacks on KRI Diponegoro, a partnering Indonesian warship. Diponegoro stood ready to track and engage the target, exercising their tactical proficiency, sensors and self defense systems. Such a complex bilateral mission is no easy task, but it is one that the drone team lives for.
“With all the work and planning that goes into an operation, each launch really is like the Super Bowl for us,” said Davidson. “The launch and the flight, which only lasts a few minutes, are so exciting. It is our reward for all the planning.”
Excitement quickly spread around the ship as crewmembers and embarked Marines gathered to observe the event. They watched as the BQM-74E target drone sat ready in its steel launch cradle on Germantown’s flight deck, and with the push of a button, a bright white streak and a thunderous roar filled the sky. Within seconds the orange projectile accelerated to a speed greater than 200 knots.
The solid state rocket boosters fell away as it reached optimal speed, and with a dip of its wings, the drone flew off on it’s own jet engine power.
The drone circled the targeting area, completing three target presentations for Diponegoro. While it was not shot down, the exercise was still considered a success because of the tangible tactical training received and teamwork and collaboration to plan the event between the two countries. The drone ended the flight by deploying its parachute and descending safely back to the surface. Germantown then recovered the drone using the ship’s small boat and crane.
“We were successful because we were able to load the drone safely, launch it safely and recover it safely,” said Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Nancy Vankuren, the PMRF launch person. “Just being here is a great opportunity for other Sailors to experience this technology and gives us the chance to train with other countries and work together to improve our capabilities.”