Defense News recently spent some time in the U.S. Naval Forces Central (NAVCENT) Command operating area around the Persian Gulf — referred to in all operational references as the Arabian Gulf. While in theater we had the opportunity to visit a number of U.S. Navy ships and units, as well as a British Royal Navy minesweeper.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet maintains a standing naval force in the region, centered since mid-2012 on the USS PONCE (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15). The former amphibious transport dock has now been converted into an “interim” Afloat Forward Staging Base, an innovative and versatile platform able to support a variety of operational needs.
Other forces regularly operating in the Gulf include:
Four Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships, the SCOUT (MCM 8), GLADIATOR (MCM 11), ARDENT (MCM 12) and DEXTROUS (MCM 13), forward-deployed to Bahrain and operating from there year-round. They were augmented in mid-2012 by the SENTRY (MCM 3), DEVASTATOR (MCM 6), PIONEER (MCM 9) and WARRIOR (MCM 10), deployed from San Diego. The PIONEER and WARRIOR left Bahrain in early March — the WARRIOR to be dropped of in Japan to replace the wrecked GUARDIAN (MCM 5) as part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces there, and the PIONEER to be returned to San Diego. SENTRY and DEVASTATOR are expected to be returned to San Diego at a later date.
Five Cyclone-class patrol coastal boats also operate from Bahrain: TYPHOON (PC 5), SIROCCO (PC 6), CHINOOK (PC 9), FIREBOLT (PC 10) and WHIRLWIND (PC 11). Five more PCs currently Stateside are expected to be added to the force over the next year or so.
Six U.S. Coast Guard 110-foot cutters operate with the Navy from Bahrain: MAUI (WPB 1304), AQUIDNECK (WPB 1309), BARANOF (WPB 1318), MONOMOY (WPB 1326), WRANGELL (WPB 1332) and ADAK (WPB 1333).
We also visited three aviation squadrons deployed to the region: Patrol Squadron 40 (VP-40), the Fighting Marlins, flying the P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft; the Blackhawks of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM-15), who fly the MH-53E Sea Dragon minesweeping helo; and Detachment 1 of the World Famous Desert Hawks Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 (HSC-26), flying the MH-60S multi-purpose helicopter.
Several waterborne patrol units also operate in the region, and Riverine Squadron Two (RIVRON-2) gave us a high-speed jaunt around Bahrain’s harbor aboard a Riverine Command Boat (RCB).
Britain’s Royal Navy maintains a force of four counter-mine ships and a support ship in the Gulf region. Right now, those ships are the mine countermeasures ships ATHERSTONE (M 38) and QUORN (M 41), along with the minehunters RAMSEY (M 110) and SHOREHAM (M 112), aided by the support ship CARDIGAN BAY (L 3009).
Here’s a look at some of the units. All photos by Christopher P. Cavas.
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