The recently concluded sinking exercise (SINKEX) called Atlantic Thunder 22 allowed Combat Air Crew Six (CAC-6) from VP-9 to execute a coordinated time-on-target using Harpoon anti-ship missiles with the Royal Navy’s HMS Westminster, Alert 5 first noted.
Various joint and multinational assets collaborated on the Hebrides Deep Sea Range off Scotland’s northwest coast in order to achieve the exercise’s main tactical objective, sinking the decommissioned Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate USS Boone.
USS Boone (FFG-28) was the twentieth ship in the US Navy’s Oliver Hazard Perry-class of guided missile frigates.
The frigate was named for Vice Admiral Joel Thompson Boone, M.D. (1889–1974). FFG-28, the first US ship to bear the admiral’s name, was ordered on Jan. 23, 1978, launched on Jan. 16, 1980 by Todd Pacific Shipyards, and commissioned on May 15, 1982.
Boone was decommissioned on Feb. 23 February.
On Aug. 18, 2022, Boone was towed to Campbeltown, Scotland to be sunk as part of a SINKEX involving Harpoon missiles fired by the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster, to test a new US targeting satellite. The SINKEX took place on Sep. 7, 2022 with the participation of both US and UK forces.
As told by Lt. Joseph Reed, Patrol Squadron NINE, in the article Patrol Squadron Nine Conducts Harpoon Shot while Participating in Atlantic Thunder 2022, Combat Air Crew Six (CAC-6) was selected to carry out the coordinated time on target strike portion of the exercise with the AGM-84D Harpoon, an anti-ship missile developed by Boeing. Among the other assets that joined CAC-6 and VP-9 in other phases of the exercise were the Royal Navy’s HMS Westminster and its Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat Helicopter, three Royal Air Force Typhoons of the 41st Squadron, one US Air Force McDonnell-Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, and a U.S. Navy submarine. Additionally, range clearance safety was provided by other US P-8A’s from VP-9’s sister squadron, VP-46.
Atlantic Thunder 2022 proved to be a rousing success for all participants, as it not only accomplished all of its primary objectives and sunk the decommissioned USS Boone, but according to the UK’s after action report, the process “achieved several firsts for the U.K. and U.S. in terms of advanced warfighting techniques and delivering complex weapon effects against a realistic target.” Ultimately, the ship formerly known as the USS Boone stood no chance against the “remarkable amount of combined firepower within a short period.” First to hit the ex-Boone were two SM-6 missiles, courtesy of the HMS Westminster. This was followed in short order by the coordinated Harpoon shot conducted by CAC-6 and the HMS Westminster. At precisely 1521Z, the AGM-84D Harpoon launched from the P-8A had a rendezvous with two surface launched AGM-84D Harpoons via the HMS Westminster into the hull of the ex-Boone. The HMS Westminster’s portion of coordinated time on target strike included passive over-the-horizon-targeting generated by US Naval Integrated Fires (NIFE), marking the first time this type of targeting has ever been accomplished against a real-life target with multinational collaboration. Raymond O’Toole, Principle Deputy Director, Operational Test and Evaluation from the Office of the Secretary of Defense remarked on this coordinated targeting, stating, “What we’ve demonstrated through this exercise is a new capability–to gain and exchange information for targeting purposes.”
Coordinated time on target shots such as the one conducted by CAC-6 and the HMS Westminster require precise multinational cooperation via detailed planning, communications, and tactical data link employment from multiple nations and services. Successful coordinated shots are remarkably effective in overwhelming a potential combatant’s defenses by delivering rapid amounts of ordnance on target simultaneously and from multiple trajectories and domains. “What we’ve seen in Atlantic Thunder today, is that with Royal Air Force, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and Royal Navy all operating together [with] helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, ships, and a submarine, every one of which is capable of going to war tomorrow, we’ve proven it today for the first time in decades in the Atlantic,” summed up Royal Navy Rear Admiral James Parkin.
Following VP-9’s successful coordinated Harpoon shot with the HMS Westminster, the ex-Boone endured several more rounds of punishment from exercise participants. The three RAF Typhoons arrived in short order to deploy four Paveway IV precision guided munitions (PGMs) onto ex-Boone. This was quickly followed by the Wildcat Helicopter’s two Martlet missiles and shortly thereafter two Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) dropped by the F-15E Strike Eagle. The sub-launched munition and Explosive Ordnance Disposal live charges delivered the final blow against the ex-Boone, sending her to the depths of the North Atlantic in over 6,500 feet of water.
Notably, the decommissioned USS Boone was prepared and configured specifically to meet stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. This was done to mitigate potential adverse effects and keep risk to the environment as low as practicable. In addition to the ex-Boone’s configuration, strict acoustic and visual monitoring from multiple sources on the range ensured that the risk posed by the exercise to marine mammals was extremely low.
Commanded by Cmdr. James J. Donchez, and based out of NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, the 279 Sailors assigned to Patrol Squadron Nine (VP-9) are currently deployed to the Sixth Fleet AOR and operate the P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy, U.S. Sixth Fleet and Atlantic Thunder 2022, Lt. Joseph Reed Patrol Squadron NINE
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