“US Navy seizes massive shipment of ammo, explosive material in Gulf of Oman” –Task and Purpose

The U.S. Navy released photos of a fishing trawler it says carried more than 50 tons of ammunition rounds, fuses and propellants for rockets when it was boarded Dec. 1., 2022 in the Gulf of Oman. (U.S. Navy 5th Fleet via Stars and Stripes)

Task and Purpose reports,

“For the second time in less than a month, the U.S. Navy intercepted a ship passing through the Gulf of Oman and seized a large shipment of illicit weapons bound for Yemen..The Navy made the interception on Thursday, Dec. 1. Sailors with the Navy’s 5th Fleet stopped a fishing trawler in the gulf. During a flag verification boarding, they found a large cargo of munitions and chemical propellant. The sailors seized 1.1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammo, as well as an additional 25,000 12.7mm rounds. The trawler also was carrying almost 7,000 rocket fuses and more than 2,000 kilograms of a propellant used in rocket propelled grenades. The cargo totaled more than 50 tonnes.”

The boarding party came from the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller, but I think it is a safe bet Coast Guard personnel were involved in the boarding.

USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3)

 

“U.S. 5th Fleet Reveals New Details on Iranian Drone Attack on Tanker” –USNI

Graphic illustration and images captured by a U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal team aboard M/T Pacific Zircon, Nov. 16, showing the location where an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) penetrated M/T Pacific Zircon’s outer hull during an attack Nov. 15. The one-way UAV attack tore a 30-inch-wide hole in the outer hull on the starboard side of the ship’s stern, just below the main deck. US Navy graphic

The US Naval Institute has a post providing addition detail about the November 15  drone attack on tanker Pacific Zircon.

The primary thrust of the post seems to be, to confirm that the drone was of Iranian origin, but then, that was almost assumed. They seem to have proven that, identifying it as a Shahed-136 design, a “loitering munition.”

For me the new information was where the tanker was targeted and the extent of the resulting damage.

When I first heard that this drone had hit the hull, I thought perhaps the Iranians had decided it was not to their advantage to kill crew members, as had happened in the July 30 attack on the tanker Mercer Street, but apparently that was not the case, since this strike was also on the stern where it is more likely to effect crewmembers.

As to the weapon’s effect, the Shahed–136 reportedly has a 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb) warhead. referencing a 5th Fleet report, USNI notes,

On Nov. 15, a Shahed 136 explosive-tipped drone flew into the aft section of the merchant oil tanker M/T Pacific Zircon punching a hole through the hull, “while subsequently penetrating and damaging internal compartments. The UAV’s explosive impact also damaged a shipboard boiler, potable water tank and life raft,” reads the statement.

That they managed to damage engineroom equipment, which presumably required penetration of multiple internal bulkheads, after penetrating the hull, is more than I would have expected. The anti-armor, shaped charge version of the munition, which would result in a narrowly focused path of destruction, may have been used.

Another report from Business Insider vis Yahoo that includes more photos here.

“U.S. Blames Iran for Drone Attack on Tanker Near Oman” –USNI

Shahed 136 drones. Iranian military photo

US Naval Institute’s News Service reports,

U.S. Central Command and Israeli officials are blaming Iran for a Tuesday attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman.

Tanker Pacific Zircon was 150 miles off the coast of Oman when what U.S. officials said was an unmanned aerial vehicle hit the ship at about 3:30 p.m. local time, according to the shipping company.

Interestingly this second attack was on a ship linked to Idan Ofer, brother of the Israeli billionaire, Eyal Ofer, linked to the tanker, Mercer Street, attacked in a similar manner in July 2021.

The latest attack did not result in any injuries, unlike the earlier attack that resulted in the death of two crewmembers. Both attacks occured South of Oman in the Northern Indian Ocean.

“Iranian ship intercepted while trying to detain American drone” –Breaking Defense

USS Thunderbolt, seen here in both Coast Guard and Navy markings during its period of service in the USCG. U.S. Coast Guard photo by David Schuffholz

Breaking Defense reports,

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet today announced it thwarted an attempt by an Iranian ship to seize an American unmanned surface vessel operating in the Arabian Gulf.

(See the video below.)

The unit that stopped this Iranian vessel from making off with the Saildrone was USS Thunderbolt (PC-12), supported by a helicopter of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, presumably an MH-60S. Vessels of this class are in the process of being decommissioned from the US Navy. Most of their functions will be performed USCG Webber class WPCs of Patrol Forces SW Asia.

This incident does seem to highlight a, not unexpected, aspect of Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) deployment. Rogue nations and even non-state actors may try to steal them. As we see here, there may be little or no consequences if they are caught in the act, so there is little to deter a repeated attempt.

Next time it happens, it is likely that a Coast Guard cutter will be sent to retrieve it.

Wikipedia provides this information on the Saildrone Explorer.

“The Saildrone Explorer is a 23-foot-long (7.0 m) USV that can sail at an average speed of 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) (depending on the wind) and stay at sea for up to 365 days. The Explorer is designed for fisheries missions, metocean data collection, ecosystem monitoring, and satellite calibration and validation missions.”

Bigger, more expensive and more capable Saildrones are on the way.

The US Coast Guard has been experimenting with Seadrones of this class, and has supported 5th Fleets experiments with them.

GULF OF AQABA (Feb. 13, 2022) The U.S. Coast Guard Sentinel-class cutter USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) sails near a U.S sail drone explorer during the International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express (IMX) 2022, Feb. 13, 2022. IMX/CE 2022 is the largest multinational training event in the Middle East, involving more than 60 nations and international organizations committed to enhancing partnerships and interoperability to strengthen maritime security and stability. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. DeAndre Dawkins)

Thanks to Walter for bringing this to my attention.

“US, Iran in Tense Sea Incident; Tehran Preps New Centrifuges” –Military.Com

USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC-1142)

As part of a new report of harassment of a US warship by Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Forces, we get a belated report of an even closer incident that involve a Webber class cutter.

On March 4, three Guard ships had a tense encounter for over two hours with Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels as they traveled out of the Persian Gulf through the strait, the Navy said. In that incident, the Guard’s catamaran Shahid Nazeri came within 25 yards (22 meters) of the USCGC Robert Goldman, the Navy said.

This is not the first time a cutter has had a run-in with this particular IRGC vessel.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Catamaran Shahid Nazeri

Late addtition

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) Harth 55 conducts an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver while operating in close proximity to USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) as it transits the Strait of Hormuz, March 4. U.S. Navy Photo

“US Navy Seizes Weapons from Fishing Vessel in the Arabian Sea” –DVIDS

U.S. Navy Seizes 1,400 Assault Rifles During Illicit Weapons Interdiction

NORTH ARABIAN SEA (Dec. 20, 2021) U.S. service members from patrol coastal ship USS Typhoon (PC 5) interdict a stateless fishing vessel carrying illicit weapons while transiting international waters in the North Arabian Sea, Dec. 20. (U.S. Navy photo)

Below is a press release from Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS). The boarding team was apparently Coast Guard. It’s likely the Webber class WPCs assigned to PATFORSWA will be doing this sort of work since the Navy PCs are being decommissioned.


U.S. 5th Fleet ships seized approximately 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition from a stateless fishing vessel during a flag verification boarding in accordance with customary international law in the North Arabian Sea, Dec. 20.

U.S. Navy patrol coastal ships USS Tempest (PC 2) and USS Typhoon (PC 5) found the weapons during a search conducted by embarked U.S. Coast Guard personnel. The illicit weapons and ammunition were later transported to guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG 77) where they await final disposition.

The stateless vessel was assessed to have originated in Iran and transited international waters along a route historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully to the Houthis in Yemen. The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the Houthis violates U.N. Security Council Resolutions and U.S. sanctions.

The vessel’s five crew members identified themselves as Yemeni nationals and will be returned to Yemen.

After removing the crew and illicit cargo, U.S. naval forces determined the stateless vessel was a hazard to navigation for commercial shipping and sank it.

U.S. naval forces regularly perform maritime security operations in the Middle East to ensure the free flow of legitimate trade and to disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and other unlawful activity. U.S. Navy warships operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet region have seized approximately 8,700 illicit weapons in 2021.

Guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) seized dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from a stateless vessel transiting the North Arabian Sea in May.

In February, guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) seized a cache of weapons off the coast of Somalia, including thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew served weapons. The inventory also included barrels, stocks, optical scopes and weapon systems.

The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses approximately 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean and three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal and Strait of Bab al Mandeb.

U.S. Navy Seizes 1,400 Assault Rifles During Illicit Weapons Interdiction

NORTH ARABIAN SEA (Dec. 21, 2021) Illicit weapons seized from a stateless fishing vessel in the North Arabian Sea are arranged for inventory aboard guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane’s (DDG 77) flight deck, Dec. 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Elisha Smith)

“Iran Boosts IRCG Navy’s Swarm Attack Capabilities” –Naval News

110 speed boats entered service with the IRGC Navy (IRIB News picture)

Naval News reports,

According to the Iranian news outlet IRIB News, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy received 110 indigenously made combat speedboats on December 11 during a ceremony in Bandar Abbas….

“This is the seventh delivery of such vessels. Their speed has climbed from 55 knots to 75 and 90 knots, with the next stage reaching 110 knots. The boats are equipped with missiles and rockets and are capable of operating efficiently under the IRGC’s indigenous radar network.”

It’s not impossible the Iranians are employing deception tactics and may be redelivering boats seen in previous delivery media events, but there is little doubt, they do have a lot of fast attack craft, making the Coast Guard’s PATFORSWA operating area a rough neighborhood. (More here, here, here, here, and here.)

Considering if PATFORSWA is ever in a fight with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy, the cutters will probably be protecting tankers or Navy high value units. In that case, frankly I think most of the smaller craft are intended as a diversion, the primary threats are the missile and torpedo equipped boats that will screened by a cloud of smaller boats. Still machineguns and rockets mounted on small boats could damage the cutters.

If you want to consider if we can deal with the Iranian tactics, you might want to look at this earlier post, Guns vs the Swarm.

“Video Shows U.S. Destroyer’s Very Intimate Standoff With Iranian Vessels Over Seized Oil Tanker” –Cutter there too

The Drive–War Zone has a post about an incident that reportedly occurred on October 24. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp seized a Vietnamese flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman and escorted it into an Iranian port.

The Iranian claim is that the tanker was carrying oil from a tanker the US had seized and they only boarded the vessel to protect it, and their oil, from being seized by the US.

Three short videos, published by the Iranians, accompany the post. The third clearly shows a Webber class cutter in the vicinity of the tanker.

In viewing the videos, I would note that, when the tanker is seized, no US assets are visible in the vicinity. The initial boarding is by troops with weapons at the ready, landed by helicopter–not normally the sort of boarding that would be used if their presence was welcomed. When additional Iranian personnel board by boat, again no US assets are visible in the area.

The videos only prove that at some point during the transit from the time of the seizure to the Iranian port, two US destroyers and the cutter closed with the tanker and its Iranian escort.

Hopefully the tanker and crew will be released in the near future. It will be interesting to hear their perspective on what occurred.

Bahrain Bound FRC gets Upgrades, LRAD and Short Range Air Search

(As we get into this, you may want to click on the photo to get an enlarged view.)

This Spring, the first two Webber class patrol craft are expected to go to Bahrain to start replacing the six 110 foot WPBs of Patrol Force South West Asia (PATFORSWA).  Two more will join them in the Fall and the last two in 2022. Back in 2018, I speculated on what might be done to modify them for duty in this more dangerous area. Apparently the Coast Guard leadership has had a few ideas of their own.

We have some very shape observers among the readers of this blog.

First Andy provided the photo of USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC-1141) above and pointed out the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD, the gray device mounted near rail on the O-1 deck just this side of the port forward corner of the bridge) and the four round sensors a short way up the mast two on each side. I note these systems were not on the ship when it was handed over by Bollinger (photo below).

The 41st fast response cutter (FRC), Charles Moulthrope, as delivered to the Coast Guard in Key West, Florida, Oct. 22, 2020. It is the first of six planned FRCs to be stationed in Manama, Bahrain. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Then Secundius identified the four round sensors on the mast as Sierra Nevada Modi RPS-42 S-Band Radar.

From the Company web site: “RPS-42 is an S-Band tactical hemispheric air surveillance radar system. It is a member of the non-rotating, solid-state, digital radar family Multi-mission Hemisphere Radar (MHR), developed by RADA Electronic Industries Ltd.
“The RPS-42 is a pulse Doppler, software-defined radar platform, that can detect, classify and track all types of aerial vehicles – including fighters, helicopters, UAVs, transport aircraft, etc. at tactical ranges. A single radar platform provides 90º azimuth coverage. Hemispheric coverage is achieved when four radars are employed as a system. Mobile or stationary, the system can be integrated with any C⁴I system and other radars and sensors. The software is able for On-the-Move (OTM) Operation. The radar can operate either as a stand-alone or as part of a large-scale surveillance system.
“The Antenna is an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) based on Galliumnitrid (GaN) Amplifiers. Its diameter is 50.4 cm , the max width is 16.5 cm. (19.8″ x 6.5″ –Chuck)
“The achievable range for detection of the smallest drones (known as Nano UAV) is 3.5 km”

These radars use Galliumnitrid (GaN), the new technology in radar, that allows the AN/SPY-6 to significantly outperform the earlier AN/SPY-1 found on most Aegis equipped warships. (Reportedly a 3000% improvement)

You can get an appreciation of what this is about from this Popular Mechanics article. This Is the ATV-Mounted Jammer That Took Down an Iranian Drone.

There is more here: Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System [LMADIS] (globalsecurity.org)

I’m only guessing, but I would think the FRC would also have the same or equivalent complementary equipment as the LMADIS, e.g. small EO/IR camera, Skyview RF Detection system and Sierra Nevada MODi RF jammer (Photo below, I may be seeing the jammer–pictured below–located above and behind the port side RPS-42 radar arrays, visible between the radar arrays and the tripod legs). The cutters of this class are already normally equipped with electro-optic devices, both on the mast and on the Mk38 gun mount, which can provide a kinetic counter to UAVs.

Sierra Nevada MODi RF jammer. From the company web site, “SNC’s Modi II is the most modern & highly-capable dismounted EMC system in the DOD inventory.”

This was probably what the Commandant was talking about, when he said that Coast Guard PATFORSWA had a counter UAS role in a recent interview.

I am thinking, this radar might also be used on some of our other cutters as well, perhaps the 210s and the six 270s to be FRAMed, to provide them better control of their helicopters on approach in bad weather. The 210s have no air search radar and the 270s will almost certainly lose the Mk92 fire control system which provides their only air search radar currently. Reportedly the radar has a range of up to 30km and an instrumented range of 50km at altitudes from 30ft to 30,000 feet. Apparently the Marines are also using it to direct fire for their short range air defense systems. which includes a 30mm gun and Stinger missiles.

Thanks to Andy and Secundius for kicking this off.

“Indonesia Escorts Seized Tankers to Dock for Investigation” –gCaptain

Iranian-flagged crude oil tanker MT Horse is escorted to Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia January 26, 2021. Indonesian Coast Guard (BAKAMLA)/Indonesian Navy (TNI AL)/Handout via REUTERS

Something interesting happening in Indonesia. gCaptain reports,

“Wisnu told Reuters on Monday that the ships were “caught red-handed” transferring oil from MT Horse to MT Freya and that there was an oil spill around the receiving tanker.”