US Navy, July 18, 2016 - STRAIT OF BAB-EL-MANDEB, RED SEA by MC3 Cole Keller - The "Swamp Foxes" of Helicopter Attack Squadron (HSM) 74 and the U.S. Navy saw an operational breakthrough July 12 when transiting through the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb.
For the first time, an MH-60R Seahawk, the Navy's next-generation submarine hunter and surface attack helicopter, was swing loaded with both AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II) in an operational area.
The thin, 16-mile wide strip of waterway in the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb sees an enormous amount of activity and is located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. Because it connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, it is an essential route of travel for the Navy, but can also prove a very dangerous one. Bab-el-Mandeb is an Arabic phrase meaning "Gate of Tears" and derives its name from its inherent navigational dangers.
"The swing load helps in some of the more dangerous chokepoints where we want the flexibility of different weapons systems," said Cmdr. Nicholas DeLeo, executive officer of HSM-74.
The APKWS II is a laser-guided rocket similar to standard Hellfire missiles. The new system serves as a low-cost, high-accuracy variant to the Hellfire missiles previously used against lightly armored targets.
"For MH-60R aircraft, the APKWS II adds a medium-range guided option to its robust weapons footprint," said Lt. Brian Crosby, HSM 74 tactics officer. "The MH-60R will employ APKWS II along with its existing Hellfire missiles and crew-served door guns, providing the warfare commander with a lethal and effective helicopter weapons system."
The helicopters of the Swamp Foxes serve to bridge the gap between long-range weapons and the crew-served weapons aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). Swing loaded, the MH-60R has both the range and bulk of the Hellfire with the addition of the lighter and more numerous APKWS II. This means both small, close-range watercraft and farther, heavier targets can be effectively neutralized by one crew on one platform.
The Swamp Foxes are the first squadron on the East Coast to have the software capable of supporting both weapons systems on one helicopter. They are the first to put their training and their equipment to the test.
"This system has been briefed up to the highest levels of the Navy, and everyone has been extremely pleased with how HSM-74 has been able to utilize and prove the weapons," said Cmdr. Daniel Testa, commanding officer of HSM-74. "We've well surpassed all goals that we've set."
HSM-74 is assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3, embarked aboard Ike. Ike and its Carrier Strike Group are deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.