ABOARD JHSV CHOCTAW COUNTY, ATLANTIC OCEAN – The gray-hulled catamaran races through the darkness and up the Carolina coast. New orders bring it into Morehead City, North Carolina, shortly after daybreak. Navy Expeditionary Combat Command detachments quickly load a variety of gear aboard the joint high-speed vessel.
There is no doubt that Bold Alligator 2014 is about to heat up. This massive amphibious exercise will throw multiple crisis-response scenarios at forces from 19 nations, to include 19 U.S. Navy and coalition ships and 8,000 U.S. and international marines.
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, along with Dutch, British, Canadian and Brazilian marines, are on high alert as tensions escalate in the fictional country Amberland. No one aboard JHSV has the big picture, and that is by design. But the brown water sailors have a heightened sense of expectancy. They know they will be called in to clear sea lanes of explosives before any Marine force moves in.
The team is ready to launch, and expects to do so sooner rather than later. The sailors will use an unmanned underwater vehicle launched from a Mark V combat rubber raiding craft to survey potential amphibious assault landing lanes. Word is the area is chock full of explosives. If that proves true, a team of explosive ordnance disposal divers will launch on an 8.5 meter rigid-hulled inflatable boat, or RIB, to remove anything and everything that would inhibit the landing.
This will give NECC the chance to put a new mine countermeasures platoon to the test. This will give EOD teams the UUV surveillance capability commonly used by area search platoons tasked with locating underwater wreckage. While the new platoon will carry the 600-pound Kingfish UUV, this Bold Alligator team will use the smaller Swordfish. But don't let its size fool you. What used to take days for divers is cut to hours with this UUV, said Operations Specialist Chief (SW) William Earp, with Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2. The team can cover 1,000 square meters in four hours with one Swordfish, and can run up to four of the vehicles in that small of a space. The UUV then provides divers precise location, size, depth of water — even a picture of the hazard.
Clearing lanes might be the easy part. NECC is using this exercise to combine its UUV company with its EOD platoon, which will clear underwater hazards alongside partner nations and will operate from a ship that is new to everyone involved.
The JHSV had no sooner moored than Cmdr. Rob Toth, commanding officer of EOD Mobile Unit 6, was on the bridge to discuss capabilities and concerns with the ship's civilian crew.
"Even small things like getting boats off of this vessel and into the water presents challenges," said Toth, who is leading the counter IED force supporting Navy Expeditionary Forces. "So far, it seems like it is working very well. [The JHSV crew members] are very good at what they do."
Toth was quite happy with the ample storage for vehicles and vessels provided by the ship's large bay, but "as far as a platform for getting us to what we need to do, I think the jury is still out until we can do the proof of concept. So far, it seems like we are going to be able to get it done."