New Arrivals: The patrol coastal ships Squall and Thunderbolt are moved across the harbor July 3 to complete their reactivation in Bahrain. (US Navy)
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WASHINGTON — Three more US Navy patrol coastal (PC) vessels have arrived in Bahrain, growing the permanently based force in the Arabian Gulf to eight ships.
The additional ships — Tempest, Squall and Thunderbolt — arrived June 30 aboard the heavy-lift ship Eide Transporter, completing a five-week voyage from Norfolk, Va. They were floated off early July 3 and taken across Manama’s harbor to the military base at Mina Salman.
“We’re very excited to be here,” Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Servello, commanding officer of the Squall, told reporters during a conference call July 3. “We’re looking forward to making a difference.”
The crews of the ships made the passage by air, flying out in advance of the ship’s arrival.
Five of the Navy’s 13 PCs have been based at Bahrain with the US Fifth Fleet since the first ships were deployed in 2003. Two more PCs, Hurricane and Monsoon, are to transfer to the gulf by mid-2014, growing the force serving US Central Command to 10 ships.
Three PCs will remain stateside and eventually shift their homeport from Little Creek, Va., to Mayport, Fla.
Some of the PCs now being sent to the gulf saw little service in recent years. Some were incapable of operations, having provided spare parts to the active ships. Now, however, the ships have been thoroughly refitted and upgraded, with more improvements to come for operations in the gulf region.
“They’re perfectly suited for what we do,” Capt. Joseph Naman, commander of Bahrain-based Destroyer Squadron 50 serving the Fifth Fleet, said during the conference call. “There’s a lot of shallow water out here.”
The Fifth Fleet, Naman pointed out, routinely operates with navies and coast guards from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which employs ships considerably smaller than the large Arleigh Burke-class destroyers fielded by the US.
“A PC matches the size and capability [of coalition navies] well,” Naman said. “The interaction we get with the PC is excellent. We integrate well. It’s the right move to bring those ships out here.”
The PCs, which were underutilized in the US, have found a new mission in the gulf, where they’re in great demand. Naman described some of their missions.
“The PCs are doing maritime security operations day-to-day here and in the Gulf of Oman. They identify illicit criminal activity and work with the GCC so they can take action. The ships protect critical infrastructure — oil platforms, distilling platforms, some of them in the middle of the gulf.
“We also do theater security cooperation exercises, over 15 every year with the GCC nations. PCs participate in every one of those. They provide escort for high-value assets [such as aircraft carriers] or ballistic missile defense ships — and not just in the Arabian Gulf, but through the Strait of Hormuz and out into the Gulf of Oman.”
The PCs have been upgraded with stabilized Mark 38 gun mounts for their 25mm guns, Naman pointed out, and the laser-guided Griffin surface-to-surface missile system is being installed.
“Pound for pound the punch is much harder on a PC than over a swarm craft,” he noted.
It won’t be too long before the newly arrived ships are ready for operations.
“Ballpark, within 10 days we’ll be ready to go,” Servello said. “The systems were all checked out before we left Norfolk and are activated.”
Immediately after being refloated in Bahrain, all three ships lit off their diesel generators, Naman said.
“They started up the air conditioning, the radars. Everything worked like it was supposed to. When we put them in the water there was not one issue.”
The growth in the PC force, combined with the reduction of land operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is allowing the US to reduce the number of destroyer deployments to the region, Naman said.
“I can’t speak to specific numbers,” he said, “but we’re going to try and reset with [the reduced] operational tempo. We’re going to stretch out [destroyer] deployments. There will be some amount fewer than what we had in the heyday of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are trying to get back to a more long-term sustainable pace of deployment.”