‘What’s not to like?’
British carrier’s focus on strike capability earns Marines’ respect in ‘Lusty’ experience
By Vago Muradian - firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted : August 20, 2007
ABOARD THE HMS ILLUSTRIOUS — What’s the definition of heaven if you’re a Marine Harrier pilot? Why, spending two weeks on one of Britain’s aircraft carriers, of course.
“What’s not to like? The flying’s awesome, the food and quarters are great, and you can get a drink at the end of the day,” said Maj. Stephan “Poppy” Bradicich, the executive officer of Marine Attack Squadron 542 who helped plan the unprecedented embarkation of 16 Harriers and 200 Marines aboard the HMS Illustrious, known as “Lusty” to its crew.
The largest embark of Marine personnel and aircraft aboard a foreign warship July 15-31 was part of Joint Task Force Exercise Operation Bold Step that included the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower strike groups, to prepare Truman for its upcoming deployment.
The accommodations and food drew high marks from the Marines. They enjoyed everything from curry night to such traditional Royal Navy dishes as “hammy eggy cheesy” — toast layered with shredded ham and an egg and covered with melted cheese — and kippered herrings along with eggs, bacon and beans for breakfast, or haggis and bashed neeps — mashed turnips — for dinner. The ship even features “Chips at Six” — fresh french fries served in the bar before dinner.
Other pluses? A roomy, teak quarterdeck aft to take a quiet break or take in a sunset, beautifully varnished wooden ladders and generous carpeting — which are stripped when the ship goes into battle — and Internet connectivity that works every time.
But one of the most satisfying things is that the ship is a strike carrier where Harriers, not helicopters, are the priority.
“This is the Royal Navy’s A team, and they live and breathe strike,” said Col. Eric “Beans” Van Camp, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 14, who also commanded the U.S. air group aboard Illustrious. “On a gator, the Harriers are secondary to the amphibious and helicopter mission.”
Then there is the piece de resistance, the 20-foot-long blond oak bar that is the centerpiece of a spacious lounge, part of the wardroom annex where off-duty officers can draw a pint, dram, cocktail, coffee or tea and reflect on the day and prepare for tomorrow.
“Everyone’s working really hard, but it’s also OK to relax afterward with a beer, within the rules we live by,” Van Camp said. “The challenge is maintaining that balance between mission and safety.”
If you’re flying the next day, you’re not drinking, nor are you staying up late, Bradicich said as he sipped a soft drink.
“It’s a great tool that we don’t have,” Bradicich said. “On our ships, there’s no place where you can really unwind, get to know your shipmates on a personal level, and solve disagreements. Our view is that if you have free time, you should be doing something other than hanging around. Here, everyone works just as hard, but they also know how to unwind. It’s a huge philosophical difference.”
That philosophical difference manifests in the relaxed atmosphere aboard the ship, including the relationship between officers and ratings — British for enlisted personnel.
Case in point? Expect a cheery “good morning” as you make your way down the passage or an offer for help if you look lost. And in a welcome relief for the American contingent, the 1MC system doesn’t crackle with announcements 24 hours a day, and the officers don’t carry radios to contact one another or the captain.
“When you have a third of the ship asleep at any given time, it doesn’t make much sense to be waking them by blaring unnecessary announcements every few minutes,” one British officer said.
In fact, the only announcement is from the operations center that details the day’s plan and tests important alarms. The only other time you hear the loudspeaker is when there’s a problem, such as a fire or engineering casualty.
And why don’t the officers carry radios like their American counterparts? “What the bloody hell do you need a radio for?” the British officer asked. “You know the plan, what the captain’s intentions and expectations are. As an officer, your job is to lead, and if you need to talk to the captain all the time, then you’re not doing your job or letting him do his.”
Another philosophical difference is that the British are open to ideas that to Americans seem goofy, but work, such as the 12-degree ramp at the bow of the ship that dramatically improves Harrier operations. Senior U.S. naval officers over the decades have vetoed the idea, saying they don’t like how it looks and that it takes up three helicopter landing spots. British and Marine officers say only one deck spot is lost to the “ski jump.”
To a man, Marine pilots want the ramps installed on their ships to improve operational flexibility and safety.
“We’re all in love with the ski ramp because when you come off that ramp, you’re flying,” Bradicich said. “From our ships, if you’re fully loaded, you need 750 feet, and even then you’ve got some sink once you clear the deck. Here, you can do the same thing in 450 feet and you’re climbing.”
But the ramp is intimidating at first sight, pilots said.
“I expected it to be violent, but when you take off, it’s almost a non-event,” said Maj. Grant “Postal” Pennington, a pilot with VMA-513 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. “Up you go, and you’re climbing. It’s a great experience.”
Equally important is the ship that’s bolted to the ramp, pilots said.
“Some of our younger guys who haven’t flown from our ships yet are in for a big surprise when they do,” Bradicich said. “This is probably the best ship you could possibly fly a Harrier from. It’s not very big, but it’s really stable, no roll, just a little pitch, not like the flat-bottom gators that roll so much. You’ve got the island moving 30 feet in each direction when you’re trying to land. That tends to get your attention.”
The combination of ski ramp, stability and dedicated crew contributed to a breakneck operational pace. The Marines proudly logged a ship record 79 takeoffs and landings in one day.
“These guys are great. We’ve qualed 28 guys in three days, most with eight landings and takeoffs, so even though we said that we were going to crawl, walk, run, our pace has been tremendous, even with different procedures,” Pennington said. “We like to approach the ship at 45 degrees and hit one of the spots, but they approach from dead astern, come to a hover abeam, slide over, then drop down to the deck. It’s different, but you get the hang of it.”
The only downside? “The thought that we’re going to have to get off,” Bradicich said.
A Royal Navy welcome
To welcome the Marines aboard, the ship’s company invited their American guests to an evening of traditional Royal Navy tomfoolery, Horse Racing Night. Outlandish costumes were encouraged, and the event, held in the ship’s hangar deck July 21 because of choppy weather, was hosted by an Elvis impersonator in full polyester regalia as the ship’s band played.
The next day, an athletic competition was held on the Illustrious’ flight deck, pitting the Royal Navy against the Marine Corps in six events: rowing; weightlifting; tractor pull; the standard Royal Navy physical fitness, or “beep,” test; shuttle run with two 40-pound sandbag weights; and a tug of war.
To the Marines’ chagrin, the Brits won all the events except for weightlifting.
In a more military contest, the Marine aircraft dropped dummy bombs and fired 20mm rounds against a target towed by the Illustrious that produces a geyser of water and serves as an aim point.
Sailors expressed confidence that the Marines wouldn’t hit the target, and despite several close calls — including a mock bomb attack by one of the youngest pilots, 1st Lt. Douglas “Rosie” Rosenstock — that lifted it out of the water, the target escaped unscathed.
Marines give Brits a carrier ops lesson
By Vago Muradian - email@example.com
Posted : August 20, 2007
ABOARD THE HMS ILLUSTRIOUS — The Brits came to America to see how it’s done. And a Marine contingent was more than happy to help out.
As officials in London prepared to approve construction of two 65,000-metric-ton aircraft carriers, one of Britain’s two existing flattops was off the U.S. coast for a refresher course in big-deck carrier operations.
“Although we invented carrier operations, we have lost a lot of the knowledge needed to run big decks, and we are relearning it from countries like America and France,” said Lt. Jon Llewellyn, flight deck officer on the HMS Illustrious.
The Royal Navy last operated a big deck in 1978, when it retired the 54,000-ton HMS Ark Royal and its 50-jet air wing. Since then, the British fleet has flown 20-aircraft groups of Harriers and helicopters from three 22,500-ton Invincible-class ships.
Now, the Royal Navy is preparing for a return to complex carrier operations with the 2014 commissioning of the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales two years later, each capable of operating with air wings of 36 Joint Strike Fighters and surveillance aircraft.
“There is an old saw which is: Do you equip the man or do you man the equipment?” said Commodore Alan Richards, who commands the U.K. Carrier Strike Group. “British forces, by and large, have looked to equip the person rather than get a bunch of equipment and then just man it.”
Richards, his staff and the carrier’s crew brought their ship to the coast of North Carolina July 15-31 to operate alongside the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower strike groups as part of Joint Task Force Exercise Operation Bold Step.
The Truman was preparing for its six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf; the Illustrious was wrapping up its certification as NATO’s High Readiness Maritime Strike Carrier.
Because the ship no longer operates with a dedicated air wing — Britain’s joint Royal Navy-Royal Air Force Harrier force has shrunk, and four squadrons are fully committed to operations in Afghanistan — the head of the Royal Navy asked Commandant Gen. James Conway for help.
After months of elaborate planning and a few days of high-tempo carrier-qualification ops, 16 AV-8B Harriers and 200 support leathernecks settled aboard the Illustrious, the largest Marine aviation detachment ever to fly from a foreign warship.
The Harriers joined two Navy search-and-rescue and two airborne surveillance and control Sea King helicopters, and together, the two-nation air wing set off on high-tempo air operations to test men and procedures at a record-setting pace.
The Illustrious also became the first foreign warship to welcome aboard the Corps’ newest aircraft, the V-22 Osprey. The landings demonstrated the feasibility of operating the 23-ton tilt-rotor, but also pointed up the difficulty of flying an aircraft with an 84-foot rotorspan from a small deck.
That shouldn’t be a problem on the new carriers, whose 4-acre flight decks are more than twice the size of Illustrious’ and only half an acre smaller than those on America’s Nimitz-class supercarriers.
The Marine embark — the first in which foreign aircraft have flown in rigorous operational scenarios from Royal Navy carriers — might one day pave the way for real-world operations.
For one thing, the Royal Navy has two carriers — the Illustrious and the lastest Ark Royal — but not enough planes to equip them full time.
Cmdr. Henry Mitchell, the commander of the Illustrious’ air operations, who spent an exchange tour flying Marine Harriers in Yuma, Ariz., said commanders would have to become more imaginative in using coalition assets. The next step, he said, is “being a coalition within a ship, as opposed to a coalition of ships or a coalition of capabilities.”
He noted that Italian, Spanish and most recently Indian Harriers have done photo-op-type landings on British carriers, and that the Italian and Spanish warplanes would return later this year for exercises.
Mitchell declined to speculate on whether U.S. and British leaders might send U.S. aircraft on missions from U.K. ships. But he said, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we could operate as we are in a conflict.”
Going to have to drag those Marines off kicking and screaming.
"battle ready cruise ships"
Very interesting reading about the differences between the two.
Good to know that the carriers could still be fully used in a potential conflict even if it means the USMC are flying from them.
I wonder how many US Sailors and Marines, given unlimited access to a time machine, would use it to give Josephus Daniels a swift kick in the nuts.
Guess they wheeled out some good chow. Or maybe what the tommies get is worse then the limeys. I have had the displeasure to eat with the Royal Marines and British Army. The company was good. The food was shit. Beer was available though.
Man, wish we would have done stuff like that when I was in VMA-542. Good to see they are getting to have some fun.
Of course, have you guys compared their frontline strike carrier to ours? I will bet you in a heart beat, the naval aviators over there would trade their's for ours. What is real interesting is that the features which shape our strike carriers are actually British inventions. Chief among these inventions are the angled flight deck and the steam catapult.
I also believe the British discovered the necessary approach for the F-4 Corsair back in WWII.
Truth of the matter is that we would sink them easily if our strike carriers went up against theirs. We would do this for all strike carrier Navies of the world minus nuclear strikes. The Soviets knew this and is why they have nuclear strike against our carriers as their first strike doctrine. That is why the Kursk and sister subs exists -- to deliver a nuclear strike against our carrier groups.
Nah, the french only invent the "drop and run" or "single-use" carriers. Check wikipedia.