CNO: SOUTHCOM Will Get New Look, Led By JHSVs

Top officer assures Fla. crowd that amphibs are still en route to Mayport

(NAVY TIMES 02 DEC 13) … Mark D. Faram

DORAL, Fla. — Some of the Navy’s most innovative hardware could find a home in U.S. Southern Command, the service’s top officer told a South Florida audience in mid-November.

While traditional forces won’t disappear — Mayport, Fla., will keep its incoming amphibious ships, for example — a lot of the heavy lifting could be done by the new joint high speed vessels, of which the first two, the Spearhead and Choctaw County, are now in service.

A total of 10 of these ships, with designs based on high-speed ferries, have been ordered and will be operated by Military Sealift Command.

“We’re finding them to have more potential than we’d previously expected,” Greenert said. “We looked at them as high-speed logistics to haul people and haul things, but we’re finding now, they can actually can do more of the maritime intercept, counterpiracy, counter­smuggling and counterdrug … because of their speed and maneuverability and the kind of sensors you can put on them.”

Tests in the region aboard the high speed vessel Swift— since returned to its civilian owners — showed off the ship’s ability to perform some missions previously done by frigates and helicopters, with help from hand-launched aerial vehicles and an Aerostat tethered balloon.

“Spearhead … will be on deployment starting next month,” he said in November. “She’ll go to [U.S. Eu­ropean Command] first and then will come to Southern Command. It will be here for a few months, and we’ll see what we can do with it.”

New mobile landing platforms and afloat forward staging bases also could see SOUTHCOM duty, Greenert said, because of their versatility. For example, staging bases could be used as hubs for military efforts during disaster-relief efforts and to perform other humanitarian missions, similar to hospital ships, while the MLP could host coastal patrol craft and serve as a mothership for operations.

Mayport’s mission

Greenert said he envisions basing those PCs — including some moving from Norfolk, Va., and others returning stateside from the Persian Gulf — at Naval Station Mayport.

Last year, in a visit to Jacksonville, Greenert announced the four remaining PCs in Norfolk would undergo an overhaul and change homeport to Mayport by sometime in 2014. He confirmed this move was still on schedule, and that PCs would be valuable to SOUTHCOM in counterdrug and anti-smuggling operations.

By the end of the decade, the Navy’s 10 PCs currently serving in the Gulf will return to the states as the service builds up its numbers of forward-deployed littoral combat ships. They will also be based out of Mayport and primarily be used in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility.

More important to those in his audience, he confirmed that the transfer of the three-ship Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group to Mayport remains on track, with the first of the ships, the amphibious transport dock New York, set to arrive this year.

“New York is still looking at a December home port change to Mayport,” Greenert said. “The [amphibious assault ship] Iwo and [amphibious dock landing ship] Fort McHenry I can only say will arrive sometime in 2014 — and that’s a fiscal year plan, to my knowledge. The budget should not, and our intention is will not, im­pact these moves.”

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