US Navy’s expeditionary mobile base USNS Lewis B. Puller hones airborne mine countermeasure skills

 Sailors and Civil Service Mariners attached to Military Sealift Command's USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) and Sailors assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasure Squadron 15 (HM-15) recover a Mark 105 Mine Countermeasure Sled.
A Mark 105 Mine Countermeasure Sled is recovered by USNS Lewis B. Puller crew. Photo: US Navy

The U.S. Navy’s first expeditionary mobile base, USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) departed Naval Station Norfolk to carry out airborne countermine deployment training from June 13 to 16.

The training battery during the four-day underway consisted of deploying and recovering two types of mine countermeasures from the deck of Puller.

One mine countermeasure deployed was a Mark 105 magnetic sled, which creates a magnetic field to destroy mines as it is towed behind a helicopter.

The second type of countermeasure system used during the training battery was the Magnetic Orange Pipe (MOP). This system is a shallow-water mine countermeasure which also uses magnetism to negate mine threats.

Puller’s hybrid crew of U.S. Navy Sailors and civil service mariners (CIVMARs) worked in concert with Sailors attached to the “Blackhawks” of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 to hone mine elimination capabilities.

“This underway was the first opportunity to merge the Puller’s full mission deck which included small boat operations, countermine sled launches and flight operations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Muehlbauer, Puller’s military crew officer-in-charge. “The underway was our first opportunity to simultaneously launch aircraft, small boats and anti-mine sleds.”

“We got underway to train in preparation for a future Initial Operational Test and Evaluation,” said Bryan Stoots, Puller’s chief mate. “We performed a mock Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) mission, which included deployment of countermine assets from the ship’s AMCM inventory.”

The deployment of each countermeasure was broken down into multiple phases. Puller’s deck department Sailors and CIVMARs first launched three rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), manned by HM-15 Sailors. These boats were used to guide and maneuver the magnetic sled and MOP. The countermeasure devices were moved into position for towing. The sled was attached to one of HM-15’s MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters and towed through simulated mine target area.

“The Puller is designed to support anti-mine countermeasure mission sets,” said Muehlbauer. “We are able to embark up to four MH-53 helicopters capable of towing different types of countermine equipment, such as different types of minehunting sleds or mine-finding sonars through the water.”

“The Puller has 100 sailors in its crew,” said Muehlbauer. “The military crew is in charge of the aviation department, mission deck operations, launch and recovery of small boats and any other deployed mission assets, [and] ship’s force protection. The sailors also manage C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence), and are capable of providing galley services for approximately 250 military personnel.


Upgrade ahead of 2017 permanent deployment


The future for Puller includes testing and evaluation. The vessel is also going to spend some time in the shipyard for upgrades and modifications prior to being permanently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility in 2017.

“The Puller is going to receive an upgrade which will enable special operations forces (SOF) to utilize the ship for operations,” concluded Muehlbauer. “The Puller will be able to support maritime interdictions, operations potentially in-country, and different adaptive military packages to perform different types of SOF contingencies throughout the world.”

In addition to countermine training evolutions, Puller’s crew performed vertical replenishment training with the Afloat Training Group, practiced flight deck firefighting techniques, and trained to counter the threat of a small boat attack.