Gulf of Thailand -- Tensions were high as the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) made final preparations to launch a BQM-74E rocket-propelled drone from the flight deck. The launch, part of the highly anticipated missile exercise for Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training (CARAT) Thailand 2015, was minutes from commencing. Months of combined planning and detailed preparation would all come down to the next few minutes.
To execute the complex evolution, 13 specially-trained Navy personnel from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) - Far East Detachment had embarked Germantown. Their equipment included several rocket propelled drones, similar in appearance to small Tomahawk missiles. The mission was to launch a drone and mimic the flight profile of a hostile missile. The drone could then be engaged by the nearby Royal Thai Navy warship, HTMS NARESUAN, with a newly upgraded missile self-defense system to include Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM).
“This missile shoot was very important,” said Capt. Suranan Saengrattanakul, deputy commander of the Thai Frigate Squadron 2. “We are eager to test our new missile system and thankful our U.S. Navy partners assisted us with this great opportunity.”
Crewmembers aboard Germantown crowded the viewing areas to watch the target drone as it sat ready in its steel launch cradle, eager to see if Naresuan, a mere 2,000 yards ahead, would successfully destroy the drone with the first launch of their newly acquired ESSM.
Anticipation built as the moment finally came and, with the push of a button, a thunderous roar filled the sky as the drone launched and a bright white streak trailed off the flight deck. Within seconds, the solid state rocket boosters fell away and the orange projectile accelerated out of sight.
“It took a lot of preparation and teamwork between my PMRF detachment, Germantown, and the RTN,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stanley Powers, the newly assigned officer in charge of PMRF. “This was my first launch and I was proud to watch my team of professionals execute so perfectly.”
With the drone missile out of sight, all eyes were glued to Naresuan, fearful that a blink would cause them to miss the ship launch its defensive missile.
As the seconds ticked by, questions began to fill everyone’s mind: Will the RTN ship be able to engage the drone on its first pass? Will they have a successful launch? Will their ESSM be able to intercept the drone?
These questions were immediately answered when, with a loud explosion, a pillar of exhaust rose up from the decks of Naresuan. The ESSM launched and quickly accelerated, where it flew to intercept the incoming drone.
For the next few seconds, no one spoke. With both the hunter and hunted out of sight, no one knew what to expect next. Suddenly there was a vibrant explosion that sharply contrasted the previously calm blue sky as the ESSM impacted the target drone in the distance. Cheers erupted from the crowd as the dazzling flames marked all that was left of the two missiles.
While the flames faded in the sky and the smoke dissipated with the wind, the strong sense of pride and professionalism remained. High fives and handshakes were exchanged by the onlookers from the U.S. and Royal Thai Navies, the Marines and embarked staff and personnel, with smiles seen in every direction. Even those who didn’t play a direct part in the launches felt they were part of a great team. There was an overwhelming sense of partnership because everyone was thinking the exact same thing: “Today is an epic day to be in the Navy.”