MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- Avenger-class mine countermeasures (MCM) ship USS Gladiator (MCM 11) conducted the first mine warfare Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise with embarked mine warfare trainers, Sept. 6-15.
SWATT, administered by the Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center (SMWDC), is designed to provide enhanced training for surface platforms in integrated air missile defense, sea combat, amphibious warfare and mine warfare (MIW).
Gladiator embarked a team of mine warfare trainers comprised of five chief petty officers specializing in MCM and a former Avenger-class MCM commanding officer in a 10-day training exercise which included six days in the Arabian Gulf. Gladiator's crew performed a full spectrum of mine warfare operations including joint mine engagement with MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters, mine sweep operations along the sea floor, and hunting and prosecuting 24 training mines.
"The scope and expertise provided by SMWDC was invaluable," said Gladiator Commanding Officer Lt. Cdr. Francisco Garza. "The crew received over-the-shoulder mentoring from the fleet's subject matter experts. By the end of the exercise, the crew developed a higher level of expertise, and the SWATT trainers made several observations which should bring positive change."
MIW involves eliminating mines in order to provide safe transit for other fleet or coalition assets and commercial shipping. MCM ships in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations undergo calibration checks to tune the ship's sonar to the local sea environment. The ship's variable depth sonar body scans the ocean floor in a pre-determined track to search the area for mine contacts. The SeaFox, an underwater vehicle, is deployed to allow MCM ships to maintain a safe distance when potential mines are detected. Equipped with a camera, the SeaFox is able to identify and detonate shape charges to eliminate the mine.
The SWATT training focused on every aspect of the mine engagement sequence, ranging from individual watchstanding tactics and senior leadership to assessing Gladiator's equipment readiness.
"SWATT is an advanced progressive training evolution, beginning with an in-port period," said SWATT trainer Senior Chief Petty Officer Jessie Montalvo. "This in-port period focuses on a comprehensive MIW administrative review to include watchbills, MIW equipment maintenance, personnel qualifications, and training processes. The underway period begins with instructor-led tactical training for every watchstander on the ship's watchfloor, in a tightly controlled mine-hunting drill scenario that allows the crew's operators to mine hunt in a known training minefield with the direct assistance of SMWDC trainers."
The SWATT training also provides feedback to SMWDC on identifying limitations of the Avenger-class ships and developing practical solutions for future operations and training.
"Gladiator played a huge role in the development of SWATT for MCMs," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Favian Garcia, the SWATT team leader. "We were able to capture several ways our training plan could be improved. It also allowed us to fine-tune the rhythm the SWATT trainers needed in order to complement the daily operations of an MCM, which often moves at a constant, round-the-clock tempo."