USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, At Sea (NNS) -- Sea and air assets assigned to the George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) Carrier Strike Group (CSG) successfully sunk the former U.S. Navy re-supply ship USNS Saturn (T-AFS 10) in a sinking exercise (SINKEX) in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 27.
Ships from Destroyer Squadron 22 and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, along with Patrol Squadron (VP) 10 and VP 45, participated in the real-world tactical training exercise with surface-to-surface, air-to-surface and surface-to-air live fire, said Commander, Destroyer Squadron 22 Capt. Jeffrey Wolstenholme, who was responsible for the coordination, planning and execution of the two-day SINKEX.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) and the guided-missile cruisers USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) and USS Gettysburg (CG 64) launched missiles, 5-inch guns, Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) and 25-mm and .50-cal weapons. In addition, aircraft and helicopters from CVW 8 launched from Bush and employed bombs and air-to-surface missiles during the exercise.
The sinking exercise focused on integrated strike group operations, command and control procedures, pre-planned responses to maritime threats and surface action group operations. As the strike group prepares for a combat deployment in spring 2011, the sinking exercise provided a unique opportunity to practice combat scenarios, to include tactics and procedures. The exercise was planned to scale up the attacks during the course of the two days, Wolstenholme said.
The first day's attacks were aimed at Saturn's superstructure to prevent hull integrity breaches. The attacks designed to sink the ship occurred on the second day. Every watertight door and hatch was closed on Saturn to ensure the maximum watertight integrity of the ship, so it would stay afloat until the final event where it was sunk with 5-inch rounds, said Wolstenholme.
Using a decommissioned ship as a training platform allows the U.S. Navy to improve the warfighting skills of those who currently serve. Real world training, such as this sinking exercise, enhances force readiness in a way that is unmatched by any simulated scenario.
This exercise demonstrated the strike group's ability to plan and execute warfare competencies such as maritime security, sea control, power projection and deterrence, said Capt. Patrick R. Cleary, commander, CVW 8.
"Everyone in the strike group is very excited to have the opportunity to conduct this exercise because it is rare to be involved in this," Wolstenholme said. "You have an actual life-size ship out there that you can attack with aircraft coming in, ships driving in close proximity and ships launching missiles from long-range getting targeting information from aircraft. It's really hard to replicate this without a hull to shoot at."
Saturn was prepared for the exercise in accordance with all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements, Wolstenholme said. All the fuel oil tanks and piping were cleaned and flushed of petroleum products, and all readily detachable material capable of creating debris or contributing to chemical pollution was removed from the ship.
"We are very sensitive to the environment," Wolstenholme said. "We take great strides to ensure that we are monitoring the environment. We have dropped sonobuoys around the hull to listen for any marine mammals that may be vocalizing and we are surveying the area for marine mammals, sea turtles and concentrations of jelly fish by flying aircraft over the hull and surrounding area.
"Until we have that absolute verification, we do not give permission to launch any weapons," said Wolstenholme. "We have to have that assurance that we will not be putting marine mammals and sea turtles in danger before we begin firing at the former USNS Saturn."
The Navy has put a moratorium on the sinking exercise after 2010 to conduct a comprehensive review of the requirements, costs, benefits and environmental impacts of the current process, said Wolstenholme. Even with the moratorium, the Navy will continue to get the training it needs, just not in the totality that it gets in the sinking exercise.
Saturn was transferred from the British Fleet Auxiliary to Military Sealift Command Dec. 13, 1983. Saturn was in service for more than 25 years and was deactivated April 6, 2009. Towing and salvage specialists at Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia verified that the 523-foot ship was seaworthy before it was towed about 250 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
For more news from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn77/.