HSC-23 Starts Landmark Deployment
For the “Wildcards” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) TWO THREE, Detachment 3, currently stationed on board the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate USS McClusky (FFG 41), their departure on April 10 was to be one for the history books.
This landmark Counter-Transnational Organized Crime (C-TOC) deployment in support of Operation Martillio – in which the detachment is tasked to fight illegal drug trafficking – is a first ever for the HSC community.
A short-fused requirement, the Wildcards’ maintainers and aircrew worked around-the-clock for six solid weeks to train and complete necessary mission qualifications in their MH-60S “Knighthawk” helicopters to prepare for the detachment. As a joint, inter-service evolution with the Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) and the Navy’s HSM and HSC Pacific Fleet Weapons Schools, pilots and aircrew from all three commands were on hand to instruct the Wildcards in the Airborne Use of Force (AUF) mission.
“We are bringing a new capability to the Navy. Our crews are trained to fight illegal drug trafficking not only during the day but at night. Only one other Navy unit, a reserve unit, is so trained. We’re taking the smugglers by surprise,” said Cmdr. Jennifer Wilderman, the squadron’s commanding officer. “We are very happy to lead the fleet in this advancement, support U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) in this critically important operation, and help fight the influx of illegal drugs into our nation.”
According to an article published in 2004 by LT Craig Neubecker, a plank-owner of HITRON, on the history of the command’s initial development, “In 1998, the Coast Guard estimated that it was stopping less than ten percent of the drugs entering the United States via the sea.”
In response to this alarming statistic, the Coast Guard decided to form HITRON to “counter the go-fast threat.” As a result, there was a conspicuous and nearly immediate increase in interdiction rates. To further expand HITRON’s new-found success, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy initiated several joint efforts to make USCG aircraft more shipboard compatible. In 2006, the Navy began utilizing the SH-60B “Seahawk” aircraft – flying off of U.S. Navy frigates – to support the joint operations.
“It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to work with the Wildcards of Det 3” said Cmdr. Ann McCann, the McClusky’s commanding officer. “Their unique capabilities, especially in Airborne Use of Force, will be a game-changer for Frigate and MH-60 operations in this important mission. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish together.”
Future operations are likely to shift to other platforms as the Seahawks and the Oliver Hazard Perry class Frigates reach their respective retirement ages. Newer weapons systems such as the MH-60S, the MH-60R, and the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) will be tasked to fill the gap left behind by the aging platforms. Naval Aviation will continue to be a predominant force in preventing the flow of illicit narcotics across U.S. Borders.
Press Release, June 23, 2014; Image: Wikimedia