CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Feb 12, ’22] Episode 35…”Mishaps & Confidence”


Welcome to the CavasShips Podcast with Christopher P. Cavas and Chris Servello…a weekly podcast looking at naval and maritime events and issues of the day – in the US, across the seas and around the world. This Week…Public discussion about the potential causes of the January crash of an F-35C Joint Strike Fighter aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson revved up with the unauthorized posting of official video of the dramatic and fiery ramp strike. We’ll talk it over with the US Naval Institute’s Ward Carroll, a carrier aviation veteran who gives us some insight into what goes on when a high-performance jet lands aboard an aircraft carrier.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Cavas challenges the Navy to come clean.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

The slow but seemingly inexorable buildup of Russian naval forces in the Black Sea reached a new level when six amphibious ships from the Northern and Baltic fleets arrived at Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol in the Crimea, bolstering the Russian amphibious units normally stationed there. The three large missile cruisers of the Slava class are now all in the region, the MARSHAL USTINOV coming from the Northern Fleet and the VARYAG from the Pacific Fleet. The three could join with their sistership MOSKVA of the Black Sea Fleet, presenting a formidable group armed with large SS-N-12 Sandbox missiles – called the Vulkan missile by Russia — originally designed to destroy US Navy aircraft carriers. The MOSKVA reportedly left Sevastopol on February 10 and looks like it could pass outbound through the Bosphorus to the Mediterranean and join with her sisters to threaten any carrier getting within the 500-kilometer range of their missiles. The cruisers appear to be moving in position to essentially triangulate the western Mediterranean where NATO carriers are operating – the MARSHAL USTINOV in the central Med, the VARYAG in the southeast near Syria and the MOSKVA possibly in the Aegean. In addition to the missile cruisers Russia is thought to have three Kilo-class submarines armed with Kalibr cruise missiles on patrol in the Mediterranean and another three operational in the Black Sea, with one of the subs in the Med possibly moving to the Black Sea. There are also significant land-based Russian anti-ship cruise missiles along the Russian Black Sea coast.

Russia on February 10 issued notifications that large areas of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov next to Crimea would be closed to navigation from February 13 to 19 for live-fire exercises, but a day later, after protests from Ukraine and NATO countries, the restrictions were lifted. It is not clear how much or if those live-fire missile and artillery exercises will still take place.

The US carrier HARRY S TRUMAN continued to operate in the Mediterranean as part of a NATO task group that included Italy’s carrier CAVOUR and the French CHARLES DE GAULLE. The ships are thought to be operating in waters south of Greece.

Beginning in January, the US Navy quietly deployed four Atlantic Fleet destroyers to the Sixth Fleet in Europe to bolster the four ships already stationed there and more ships operating with the HARRY S TRUMAN strike group. USNI News reported the destroyers MITSCHER, GONZALEZ, THE SULLIVANS and DONALD COOK left their homeports in Norfolk and Mayport as independent deployers to the Sixth Fleet. While US Navy officials avoided linking the deployments to the Russia/Ukraine crisis, the result is the US Navy has the largest number of ships now in the Mediterranean since 2018. The number of Russian ships operating in the region is the highest since 2016.

Elsewhere, in the western Pacific the US Navy staged a major exercise called Noble Fusion that brought together the carrier ABRAHAM LINCOLN, assault ships ESSEX and AMERICA, sea base ship MIGUEL KEITH, Marines of the 11th and 31st Marine Expeditionary Units and Japanese naval, marine and air forces for exercises in the Luzon Strait south of Taiwan and the Miyako Strait south of Okinawa. The maneuvers ended on February 7.

And on February 5 the new littoral combat ship USS SAVANNAH was commissioned in ceremonies at Brunswick, Georgia. The ship is the 14th LCS of the Independence-class and will be based at San Diego.

Cavas Squawk:

As you’ve just heard, there are any number of questions and issues arising from the F-35C crash on January 24. This isn’t just any airplane – the F-35C is the carrier variant of the much larger Joint Strike Fighter program, which includes the basic F-35A land-based version and the F-35B Short-Takeoff or Vertical Landing aircraft, planes which are serving not just with the United States armed forces but also with a number of foreign nations. Strike Fighter Squadron 147 – the unit that the plane that crashed was part of – was making the first-ever operational deployment of the 35C; a second squadron already is deployed aboard the carrier ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Both carriers have carried out intensive operations in the western Pacific. The 35C is being integrated with carrier air wings operating F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters, and those aircraft are to form the core of US Navy strike aircraft for the next quarter century or more. The US and many of its allies have made significant investments in the F-35. It is imperative that, if there’s a problem, the cause needs to be quickly found and made public.

But confidence is not high in the Navy’s ability to essentially come clean when something bad happens. Following the unprecedented fire and loss of the USS BONHOMME RICHARD in July 2020, it took the Navy more than fifteen months to release a detailed – and scathing – account of the multitude of mistakes that led to the loss of a nearly two-billion-dollar assault ship. Fifteen months.  By that time, the ship had been decommissioned and its burnt-out carcass towed to a scrapyard in Texas. Many of those responsible had moved on to other positions. Most of the individual punishments have yet to be made public.

There was no excuse for taking that long to tell the public what happened to their ship. Hopefully, in the aftermath of the dramatic ramp strike on the CARL VINSON – where, fortunately, there were no fatalities but clearly there could have been – a professional assessment of what went wrong will soon be forthcoming.

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