USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- The Saberhawks of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77, Detachment 5, completed a two-week embark aboard Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ship Fort Victoria (A387), May 14.
At the request of Commander, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, Royal Thai navy Rear Adm. Tanin Likitawong, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 deployed HSM-77 to Fort Victoria, Likitawong's flagship.
"The presence of Carrier Air Wing 2's HSM-77, Det. 5 aboard RFA Fort Victoria was a major milestone for the squadron, and contributed significantly toward U.S.-U.K. interoperability in the area of responsibility (AOR)," said Cmdr. Brent Gaut, HSM-77 commanding officer. "This marked the first time a U.S. Navy MH-60R detachment embarked on a Royal Navy vessel and further cemented the bond with our coalition partner navies."
Detachment 5 was chosen for the embark because the primary mission of its MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters are surface and anti-submarine warfare.
HSM-77's goals during its embark were to provide Fort Victoria with an enhanced surface search capability for its counter-piracy mission, and show that U.S. Navy helicopter squadrons can successfully prepare, deploy, operate and disembark a detachment from foreign vessels.
After an extensive planning period, an eight-man site survey team was deployed to Fort Victoria to view its facilities and determine the feasibility of supporting an MH-60R helicopter detachment, to include storage requirements for classified documents, communication equipment and ordnance.
Once planning was completed, a single helicopter was flown aboard to test Fort Victoria's air operations procedures and support equipment.
"It was clear upon arrival that the aviation spaces were excellent," said Lt. Cmdr. Aric Edmondson, Det. 5 officer in charge. "For cruiser/destroyer pilots, the Fort Victoria flight deck was large in comparison, and made for an outstanding forward-afloat staging base, but there were still challenges we had to overcome."
Detachment 5 began its mission aboard Fort Victoria May 2. The first two days included meetings, briefs and flight operations training to ensure both sides were adequately prepared to support the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) multinational partnership. After receiving certification from the United Kingdom Aviation Authority located on board, Fort Victoria and Detachment 5 were ready to begin air operations.
For the remainder of their stay, Detachment 5 conducted counterpiracy surface surveillance coordination (SSC) flights in three operating areas.
While embarked, Detachment 5 located and tracked numerous suspicious surface contacts, collecting dozens of photographs and hours of video to be analyzed and used for future reference, and responded to two piracy distress calls from merchant vessels.
In the end, the highlight of their stay was the last two days of their scheduled flight operations.
CTF-151 staff received information that a pirate action group had attacked three motor vessels in the southern half of the North Arabian Sea, May 11. Fort Victoria, along with two other coalition surface combatants, was ordered to canvass the area to locate and assist the merchant ships in distress. While the ship steamed ahead, Detachment 5 and CTF-151 staff put together a plan of action that would maximize the helicopter's on-station time to assist those in need.
Once on scene, Detachment 5 launched an MH-60R aircraft and to aid the distressed merchant vessels, early in the morning May 12. Using tactics they had spent years perfecting and an array of mission systems, the aircrew began collecting data and intelligence on the vessels of interest. Upon completion of their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, the aircraft returned to Fort Victoria and briefed the staff on their findings, which included one motor vessel already under pirate control and the location of a pirate mother ship.
That evening, a coalition boarding team liberated the ship using the information gathered and disseminated by Detachment 5.
The deployment of Detachment 5 aboard Fort Victoria exhibited the capabilities of HSM-77 and the MH-60R, and the continuing development of CMF coalition forces' interoperability.
"The successful result of this endeavor is a testament to the quality of Sailors we have here at HSM-77, their unfailing commitment to our Navy, and their willingness to find a way to say 'yes we can' vice 'that can't be done.' I am extremely proud of what they have accomplished," said Gaut.
HSM-77, CVW-2 and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are deployed as part of CSG-9, which includes guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 9. CSG-9 is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and combat flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
For more information, visit www.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/usnavy, or www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.