Remembering to crouch and run to the safety of the wind-free hangar
when deplaning is just one lesson that the Army took to heart when
its pilots practiced landing helicopters aboard a large-deck ship.
The USS Tarawa (LHA-1), an amphibious assault ship, circling 80
miles off the coast of San Diego, recently hosted a joint-service
test designed to demonstrate interoperability between Army helicopters
and Navy vessels. Above the entrance to the hangar of the Tarawa,
a large painted sign is displayed, saying “Beware of Jet Blast
and Rotors.” In the whip of the salt air, the ship’s
crew warns, one indeed must beware when the rotors are in motion.
Operating Army materials in a shipboard environment is vastly different
than on land, service officials said during the test. The objective
of the test was to improve the interoperability of Army and Navy
elements aboard amphibious assault ships.
Joint operations and joint warfare have become priorities at the
Defense Department. “We seldom bring joint forces together
until we start operating within the confines of a particular operation,
but there is a move now to train jointly, to set up a joint command
structure,” said Navy Cmdr. Bret Gary, deputy director of
the Joint Shipboard Helicopter Integration Process (JSHIP). A $22.5
million project based at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, JSHIP
is in its last year and a half of a five-year program operated for
the defense secretary’s Joint Test and Evaluation office.
“JSHIP came out of operations we’ve done in the past,”
said Capt. James Thompson, JSHIP’s director. Army helicopters
have landed aboard ships numerous times: “Grenada, Panama,
Somalia, Haiti, the Gulf War — but people were so busy doing
their mission” that the interoperability problems were never
“Grenada was possibly the first significant mission that
brought joint aircraft and ship together,” Thompson said.
In anticipation of future military operations like Grenada, “We
want to give the warfighter one set of joint procedures he can use
during contingency operations,” he said. This test, the sixth
of 12 planned tests, “goes beyond the level of the previous
tests, because now we’re evaluating staff coordination.”
The USS Tarawa, the second Navy ship to have that name, is an amphibious
assault ship based at North Island, San Diego. Built by Ingalls
Shipbuilding, now a division of Northrop Grumman’s Litton,
the Tarawa was christened on May 29, 1976, and has a long history
of joint exercises. It is the “lead ship of the LHA-class
of general-purpose amphibious assault ships,” according to
a spokesman, and was chosen for the JSHIP exercise, because it “combines
the functional capabilities of surface operations with an amphibious
The JSHIP test required the participation of approximately 1,500
Navy and 500 Army personnel. The Navy participants included the
Amphibious Squadron Five, Helicopter Support Squadron 11, providing
search and rescue support, and the USS Duluth (LPD-6), which performed
parallel operations in the same waters as the USS Tarawa. The Army
group was made up of the Texas Army National Guard’s 49th
Armored Division, the headquarters of the 4th Brigade and the 1st,
2nd and 3rd Aviation Regiments (flying Apaches, Blackhawks and Chinooks,
respectively). Other Army units involved were the 449th Aviation
Support Battalion and the 3rd Battalion of the 144th Infantry regiment
of the 3rd Infantry Brigade. “Everyone out here has differing
levels of experience,” said Thompson. We have to integrate
the staff to do contingency and operational planning. We (the services)
talk different languages.”
An example that Thompson provided on the disparate languages of
the services, is the word ‘L-Hour.’ “In the Navy,
as far back as Omaha Beach, back in Normandy, L-Hour is when you
land. For the Army, L-Hour is when you take off — it’s
your ‘launch’ hour. After several weeks of planning,
we got together yesterday, and we realized we were talking about
times that were 30 minutes apart. Our goal is to get these lessons
learned, with procedures and doctrine that we’ll be able to
pull off the shelf if we get a warning and task order to execute
a joint operation with the Army and the Air Force,” Thompson
The test was a “high enough priority that an entire ship can
be dedicated to it,” said Gary. The reason, Gary explained,
is that during the military operations in Grenada, Haiti, Somalia
and the Gulf, helicopter pilots from all the services had no choice
but to land on moving ships. The pilots from the Air Force and the
Army were ill equipped, in these instances, with little or no information
about the limitations or even physical layout of the ships, while
Navy personnel aboard those ships had little or no information about
the specifications of the helicopters.
The five-day exercise of landing and departing to and from the
ship culminated in a joint sortie on San Clemente Island, Calif.
Texas Army National Guardsmen, acting as infantry units, loaded
weapons and supplies onto their helicopters and flew approximately
30 miles to the island, a 20-mile long piece of Navy-owned land
off the coast of California, said to be inhabited only by goats.
There, the guardsmen deplaned and performed a “security mission,”
taking over an airfield, with a Navy Seal unit acting as the “hostile”
enemy. JSHIP personnel observed every step of the process, paying
particular attention to the sailors loading the Army’s live-fire
weapons. They documented their needs and observations.
The helicopters used in the test were UH-60 Black Hawk combat assault
helicopters, AH-64A Apache attack helicopters, AH-64D Apache Longbow
attack helicopters and CH-47D Chinook cargo helicopters.
The weight, wing-span, digital-communications ability, computer
operations, weapons management and other factors were all tested
for performance in the shipboard and operational environment.
“We are viewing and operating these aircraft aboard a ship,
something which we’ve never done before,” said Thompson.
“Of course, this is not the first time the Navy has worked
with another service. It’s not the point that the mission
itself isn’t hard to accomplish, it’s that there are
so many factors, so many young people. There’s all kinds of
stuff they have to be familiar with for shipboard life,” that
can complicate interoperability, he said.
For the most part, the test was completed successfully, officials
said. “We’ve had a few problems, but nothing where we’ve
had to close the door and cut the baby in half,” said Navy
Capt. Alan Haefner, commander of Amphibious Squadron Five.
“The reality of going on a ship, on a deployment at sea,
is that you’re in your own little world, and whatever experience
level is on the ship at that time, that’s all your little
world knows,” Gary said. However, JSHIP seeks to alter that
reality. “I get calls or e-mails from a ship sometimes, maybe
in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They say ‘Hey Bret, I heard
you’ve got this JSHIP thing and I’ve got this Army helicopter
that’s going to arrive at my flight deck in two days, and
I thought maybe you could give me some pointers, I don’t know
anything.’ So I send him our latest checklists and materials”
gleaned from previous tests.
Officials are developing checklists, videos and handbooks that
“they (both pilots and shipboard personnel) can use before
they leave their home base, that will tell them what they need to
know to land aboard the particular ship,” said Gary. One of
the most urgently needed checklists deals with “ordnance loading,
because the way we operate on a ship, due to all the antennas and
electromagnetic forces, is a great hazard when you’re working
with ordnance. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft are designed to operate
in that environment, but Army and Air Force helicopters are not,”
According to Lt. Col. Bud Savageau, Air Force deputy test director,
it is important during the test to observe “how the staffs
interacted, how the ground forces interacted with the ship’s
company. The objective is having the processes work,” and
working out solutions to any problems that may arise, he said. “How
can we figure out how best to operate with these aircraft in a shipboard
environment? Part of our charter is to develop a way to pass on
the information we gather from the tests and the research,”
said Savageau. To that end, “we’ve determined that we
have to create and improve Navy legacy products in an Army language.
Things that are second nature to Marines and the Navy need to be
taught to the Army and the Air Force.
Savageau is in charge of creating a computer-based ordnance reference
program, which will provide information to all the services on the
shipboard ordnance planning factors. “We are developing procedures
for interoperability certifications, but we need to get out the
basic information too, such as explanations on the care and feeding
of troops and force protection,” Savageau said.
It is part of Savageau’s duties to propose new products that
should be created as a result of shipboard tests. For example, he
is developing an aircraft manual movement checklist, which “will
provide both embarked units and ships’ company with the information
to move embarked aircraft by hand.”
Also, a document will be created to teach blade fold procedures.
“This document will provide a standardized method to manually
fold/spread the Chinook’s rotor blades in the shipboard environment,”
one of his proposals stated. Several videos to acclimate individuals
to ships are currently in the planning stages.
“We’re taking the data and putting it into a form that
the pilot can understand,” Gary said. “Now, the next
step is to let people know it exists.
“When we’re gone in ’03, we’ll have products
that our operators, our warfighters can use, today and forever after,”
JSHIP is developing simulation and modeling devices to train pilots.
Retired Army pilot Denver Sheriff, a computer scientist employed
by JSHIP, has headed up an effort to develop simulations that could
replace certain live tests. Sheriff, who retired as a chief warrant
officer, had been a standardization instructor pilot and rotary
wing instrument flight examiner. One simulation that Sheriff demonstrated
to National Defense aboard the ship calculated the wind speed around
the ship, effectively simulating the “wind-over-deck environment”
which could then indicate to pilots how they would execute their
landing. “A side-benefit of the new testing and evaluation
exercise is that it’s also a good training tool,” Sheriff
said. JSHIP is currently “working with NASA Ames at Moffett
Field, Calif. to develop a model built to our specifications,”
“We know we can’t test all aircraft combinations on
all ships. We try to look at the most reasonable, most likely combinations
and we know we can’t test everything,” said Gary. “But
we can create tools to do simulations, without the aircraft being
there,” Sheriff said.
All aspects of helicopter landings on ships are being scrutinized
carefully, said Cmdr. Thomas Brady, of Naval Sea Systems Command.
He was one of several individuals who noted that most JSHIP employees
are either current or retired helicopter pilots. “Seventy
plus percent of us here at JSHIP are either active-duty test pilots,
reserve duty pilots or retired pilots with over 20 years experience,”
said Mike Vandeveer, the JSHIP procedures and training manager and
retired Army CW4. Vandeveer, a rotary-wing pilot who served two
tours of combat duty in Vietnam and logged over 7,000 hours of flying
time, said that the JSHIP employees “have had experiences
aboard helicopters that have caused them to be passionate about
the subject. They’ve determined that what they’re doing
at JSHIP is valuable.”