The Truman Show - USS Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf
Last year the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) with her embarked Carrier Air Wing 3 (CVW-3) took up station in the Persian Gulf for its third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Séan Wilson reports.
The USS Harry S. Truman is the ninth nuclear-powered aircraft carrier built for the US Navy and the eighth in the Nimitz class. The ship was launched on September 13, 1996, delivered on June 30, 1998, and commissioned on July 25, 1998. The Truman embarked on its maiden deployment to the Persian Gulf on November 28, 2000, in support of Operation Southern Watch. The carrier deployed again on December 6, 2002, this time to the Mediterranean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Since then the Truman has twice been called into action in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, taking up station in the South Eastern Mediterranean in February 2003 and the Persian Gulf in November 2004. On September 2, 2005, the ship deployed to the Gulf of Mexico to assist in the relief efforts following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
For this cruise the Truman left its home port of Norfolk, Virginia on November 4, 2007, and arrived on station on December 11 where it was expected to remain for between six and eight months in support of coalition operations on the ground in Iraq. However operations over Iraq are not the only reason why the USS Truman is present in the Persian Gulf as Captain Rick ‘Poodle’ Pawlowski, commander of CVW-3 (termed CAG-3), explained: “We are making sure that the sea lanes are kept open. This is a very important part of the world and we are just making sure that the access is still here. When a country tries to push its boundaries out into the ocean where it’s then going to inhibit the flow of critical oil tankers for example, we have to make sure that we push those boundaries back up to the twelve mile limit and we do just that with presence, by going back and forth. As well as freedom of navigation, maritime security and surveillance operations we do a lot of influence operations with the local fishermen. We do take a certain number of airplanes over the beach everyday and they support the ground component commander in a close air support (CAS) role. We are also carrying out non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (NTISR) missions, armed reconnaissance and sensor sweeps to look for improvised explosive device (IED) emplacements. Especially over the last year or so we have been very effective in taking out IEDs. We have about three or four every week that we detect and take care of. We are on call to the troops on the ground to destroy weapons caches or IEDs. We do a lot of this but it’s only about a third of what we do in a 24-hour period.”
The IED threat
One of the biggest threats faced by troops on the ground in Iraq is that posed by IEDs. These “homemade” devices can utilise commercial, military or homemade explosives as well as military ordnance. Triggered remotely or manually they are proving to be the lethally-effective method of choice of Iraqi insurgents for attacking military convoys. As such countering this threat has become a high priority over the past few years.
The EA-6B Prowler is an electronic warfare aircraft that is better known for its role in the suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD). However now that the radar-guided surface-to-air missile (SAM) threat has virtually been eliminated in Afghanistan and Iraq the Prowler’s jamming capabilities are being called upon to target IEDs. The tactics and technology employed by the EA-6B to counter IEDs are still classified and therefore information about its exact role is understandably scarce.
The Prowler carries the AN/USQ-113 radio countermeasures system which provides it with the ability to detect, analyse and jam hostile communications. It is believed that this system is employed to jam the remote signals which are used to detonate IEDs such as those sent by mobile phones, pagers, garage door openers and two-way radios.
While the Prowler’s jamming systems may be effective against remotely detonated IEDs they have no effect on those that are triggered manually, therefore early detection is vital in order to protect the troops on the ground. This is a role filled by the AN/ASQ-228-equipped F/A-18 as Commander Bill ‘Ziggy’ Sigler, VFA-37 explained: “The biggest thing that we [VFA-37] do, which we probably spend about 70% of our time doing, is scanning roadways for IEDs. The IED emplacements show up as what we call hot-spots on the road that can be anywhere from the size of a dinner plate to a trash can in terms of circumference. The problem is they can look the same as roadworks or if it’s a dirt road it can look like a patch of dirt that a dog has dug up.”
The AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infra-Red (ATFLIR) pod was designed to replace three pods on the F/A-18: the AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk FLIR and laser designator pod previously used on the F/A-18C/D as well as the F/A-18E/Fs AN/AAS-46 Targeting FLIR (TFLIR) and AN/AAR-55 Navigational FLIR (NAVFLIR) pods. The AN/ASQ-228 integrates infrared targeting and navigation FLIRs, electro-optical (EO) sensor, laser rangefinder and target designator, and laser spot tracker into a single pod. In both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions the sharp imagery provided by ATFLIR makes the identification of friendly versus enemy forces much easier. Its target detection range shows a four-fold increase over previous systems with laser designation effective at altitudes up to 50,000ft (15,240m) and at a slant range of greater than 30 miles (48km). In addition ATFLIR provides GPS coordinates to precision weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM).
The Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) is a system which allows the ATFLIR imagery to be data-linked in real-time to the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground. In addition to making target “talk-ons” much easier this system enables the JTAC to positively identify that the correct target has been selected thereby greatly reducing the possibility of fratricide, a feature that all aircrew agree is of the utmost importance.
Along with the ATFLIR, ROVER is the upgrade that CWV-3s F/A-18 pilots feel is the most beneficial update to their aircraft in recent years as CDR Sigler explained: “We didn’t have ROVER a month prior to coming out to the Gulf. If you didn’t have ROVER you reverted to what’s called talk-on close air support. Because he (the JTAC) can’t see what I’m seeing he has to find something significant that I can see from 20,000ft (6,096m) up and then talk me onto a very precise point. This could be a car in a parking lot that I now have to track. With ROVER he gives me a coordinate which I enter into the ATFLIR pod. As he can see what I can see he can very quickly guide me onto the target. What would have been a five minute conversation has now been reduced to 30 seconds. The surface-to-air threat has not been eliminated but it is minimal compared to what it was a couple of years ago. This means that we are now able to operate at lower altitudes than we have in the past which helps the resolution on our targeting pods.”
Operating within the confined space of a built-up area often rules out the use of weapons such as the GBU-12 500lb (227kg) Paveway II laser guided bomb (LGB) or GBU-38(V)2 500lb (227kg) Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). This is due to the fact that they carry either the MK-82 or BLU-111A/B warheads, thereby making them high collateral damage weapons.
Preventing the loss of innocent lives is a major consideration as Lieutenant Commander Mark ‘Killer’ Callari, VFA-11 explained: “The thing that we are always worried about is collateral damage. You want to be able to hit a target and only harm that target and nothing else in the vicinity. In an urban environment this is particularly challenging as there are a lot of buildings and infrastructure that you do not want to damage at all. The GBU-51 and GBU-38(V)4 enable us to hit a target with minimal damage to the surrounding area.”
26 April 2009
© Séan Wilson 2009