US Navy, October 18, 2016 - PANAMA CITY, Florida by Katherine Mapp - Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron FIFTEEN (HM-15) conducted annual airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) training at Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) for almost two weeks during October 2016.
HM-15’s annual Helicopter Advanced Readiness Program (HARP) HAWKEX training is conducted at NSWC PCD where the squadron can receive technical support to equipment used in mine hunting, such as the AN/AQS-24 sonar used in conjunction with the Fleet’s MH-53E aircraft, in addition to use of the Gulf of Mexico.
Traditionally, when HM-15 visits NSWC PCD, their main focus is AMCM. This year, in addition to their unit level training they focused on a scenario that involved the combination operations of a mine countermeasures triad, consisting of AMCM, surface mine countermeasures (SMCM) and underwater mine countermeasures (UMCM).
The training was developed to simulate real-world scenarios so the squadron included Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One (EODMU1) and Six (EODMU6) and the San Diego, California home-based mine sweeper, the USS CHAMPION (MCM 4).
HM-15 Executive Officer Cmdr. Vince Spozio, said the wealth of knowledge in MCM and mine warfare that NSWC PCD encompasses is significant to HM-15’s mission set.
“NSWC PCD is a great place for our squadron to conduct training. There are resident experts at NSWC PCD, both civilian and military, that provide support to HM-15. Whether it is maintaining our equipment or providing us with insight into tactics, NSWC PCD is very valuable as we move forward into deployments,” said Spozio. ”The experience gained at NSWC PCD prepares our Sailors before they deploy so they’re getting a good trial wargame before they enter the actual operating area.”
Exercises give the Fleet specific scenarios to which they respond by conducting MCM operations just as they would as if they were executing those actions in 5th Fleet. This ensures that the Department of the Navy maintains a leading edge in warfighting technologies for national defense.
Spozio said during the exercise, the HM-15 led Combined Task Group (CTG) provided tasking to the USS CHAMPION as it operated off the California coast. The ship’s progress was then transposed onto the water space off Panama City using a process known as geotranslating.
“We want to mimic the CHAMPION operating off the Florida coast. The ship’s crew is given specific coordinates and an area they need to sweep or look for mines, said Spozio. “Once that is completed, we overlay the results onto the coast of Florida where HM-15 and EODMU ONE are operating.”
By moving toward more complex problems, the Sailors of HM-15 set up a CTG which plans and deconflicts the operations of the combined AMCM, UMCM and SMCM mission.
“Through coordination, the Sailors are working in the same geographical area and going after the same problem – mines,” said Spozio. “We make sure the MCM asset use is efficient and safely deconflicted during their combined operations.”
As part of the AMCM and SMCM exercises, the USS CHAMPION, home ported on San Diego, called into the operations center located in Panama City, Florida with the CTG each night and reported on their operations off the coast of California. The CTG Sailors interpreted these operations reports and geotranslated them onto the scenario they faced in Panama City, Florida.
In addition, EODMU1 and EODMU6 conducted underwater MCM with support from HM-15 Sailors. EODMU1 assisted by conducting sonar scanning of the seafloor with a Mk-18 unmanned underwater vehicle for mine-like targets. EODMU6 conducted “casting” exercises where they jumped from the back of MH-53Es into the water to simulate deploying and destroying of a mine the Sailors had surfaced.
Spozio said as he and the Sailors end their problem set, the coordination and combination of all three sides of the MCM triad during operations is interesting and impressive.
HM-15’s robust presence aboard NSWC PCD included four MH-53E aircraft and 140 military personnel from all walks of life, including pilots, aircrewmen, tacticians, helicopter maintenance technicians, as well as administrative professionals.
NSWC PCD: Technical Center of Excellence for Littoral Warfare and Coastal Defense