Carter Hall Conducts Coalition Operations in the Gulf of Aden

Monday, June 11, 2007
USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Austin (A 386) and its embarked helicopter detachment 857th Royal Naval Air Squadron, and Federal German Ship Köln (F 211) are conducting maritime operations as part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 150. CTF 150 is responsible for maritime operations in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, North Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Through cooperation, these units drastically increase their individual capabilities. Flying two ASAC-7 Sea King helicopters, each equipped with the Searchwater 2000 radar, the aviators of the 857th are capable of locating and classifying contacts several hundred miles away.

Between Carter Hall’s air assets and those of the 857th, the coalition partners have the ability to cover a much larger area with fewer ships. “The British pilots are able to give us details like length and design of vessels that we would never have previously known were there,” said Cmdr. Jim McGovern, commanding officer of Carter Hall. “We are now better able to pursue suspicious vessels that meet the profile of what we are looking for. The teamwork makes better use of our time by allowing us to focus our searches.”

Designed as a supply ship, Fort Austin usually carries ammunition. During the Falklands War, Fort Austin served a number of roles including a hospital ship. However, since January the 857th has conducted flight operations from Fort Austin’s deck. “Being aboard a fleet auxiliary ship is a unique situation for us,” said Lt. Cmdr. Smith, commanding officer of the 857th. “Traditionally, we fly off of Royal Naval ships. The use of auxiliary ships, like the Fort Austin, has allowed us to expand our deployment options, making the use of our time more effective. The only real drawback to this configuration is that we cannot stop and search suspect vessels. That’s where the Americans come in.”

Carter Hall and Fort Austin exchanged officers to improve coordination of their joint operations May 21 - 25 while operating in the Gulf of Aden. Fort Austin hosted Ensigns John Pierczynski, Matthew Milkowski and Valerie Greenaway. They worked with the British crew to coordinate efforts with Carter Hall. The 857th sent Lt. Laurie Evans to Carter Hall to help the crew better understand the capabilities of the Sea King, as well as how to best interpret the information they receive. “I am consistently impressed by the professionalism of the Sailors aboard Carter Hall,” Smith said. “They do an extraordinary job of thoroughly checking out each contact that we identify. Together we have learned a lot about the maritime environment in this area. I am looking forward to working with Carter Hall in the coming months.”

Once the Sea Kings have narrowed down the possible list of suspect vessels, the Carter Hall further assesses the vessel of interest. If necessary, Carter Hall’s visit, board, search, and seizure team is dispatched. “The exchange officers have played an important role in coordinating our efforts with both the British and German ships in the area,” McGovern. “The improved communication flow is vital to the successful completion of the operation.” Throughout this process, Carter Hall, the 857th and Fort Austin remained in constant communication with Köln. This allowed Köln to expand patrols to other areas to efficiently and effectively cover their area of responsibility. Carter Hall, based out of Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach, Va., deployed April 10 to the 5th Fleet area of operations. Fort Austin and the 857th, based in Cornwall, England, began their deployment in January.

Maritime operations help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment and complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts in regional nations’ littoral waters. Coalition forces also conduct maritime operations under international maritime conventions to ensure security and safety in international waters so that commercial shipping and fishing can occur safely in the region.

By Ensign John Pierczynski, USS Carter Hall Public Affairs

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