PANAMA CITY, Fla — Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Panama City mine warfare In-Service Engineering Agent (ISEA) and a team of mine warfare experts recently modernized two mine sweepers within a four-month window to enable a homeport change.
USS Pioneer (MCM-9) and USS Chief (MCM-14), two Avenger-class minesweepers, were assigned a homeport change from San Diego to Sasebo, Japan in February, but needed critical upgrades before their scheduled departure from San Diego in May.
"We modernized two minesweepers in four months because that's all the time they had, and that is what we do," said Mike Bobroski, SQQ-32 ISEA project engineer, NSWC Panama City. "Our objective was to support modernization initiatives in 7th Fleet at the earliest opportunity and provide our shipmates with the tools and capabilities to effectively execute missions and maintain a safe posture."
To enable their forward-deployed missions, the ships both needed an upgrade to the latest mine-hunting sonar, the High-Frequency Wide Band (HFWB) sonar set, also called the AN/SQQ-32(V)4. The AN/SQQ-32 sonar system is critical to minesweepers as it detects, classifies and localizes moored mines from a stand-off distance.
Modernizations require extensive coordination between NSWC Panama City response teams and the ship's crew, as it is more than simply swapping out parts. It requires shipboard integration and testing to ensure the equipment will perform as intended when operated by the Sailors in a threat environment. It also includes training the Sailors on how to use the updated equipment properly.
"Fleet modernization is a careful, deliberate process used to deliver real-time, technical support to some U.S. Navy surface combatants," said NSWC Panama City Technical Director Ed Stewart. "Ships like minesweepers, and their Sailors depend greatly upon the equipment updates and training provided by civilian engineers like those who upgrade mine warfare systems in Panama City, Florida. Our surface mine warfare experts continue to apply technical rigor to deliver repeatable, quality results every time on time. The fleet depends on us and we take this very seriously."
NSWC Panama City's mine warfare response teams are comprised of civilian, military and contracted specialists, and for this project, two teams, the Conditional Assessment Repair Evaluation (CARE) and Alteration Installation Teams (AIT) were integral to the modernization success.
The Conditional Assessment and Repair Evaluation (CARE) teams were formed in 2010 by the AN/SQQ-32 ISEA to improve operational availability of the system and endorse an overall readiness posture for the warfighter.
"This proactive solution not only elevated operational availability above fleet thresholds for the first time in 15 years, but provided a mechanism to address the hardships facing our SMCM [Surface Mine Countermeasure] community continually challenged with limited resources and funding to support our system. This successful concept not only course-corrected the entire sonar program, it sustained capabilities above threshold over the last two years," said Rob Coffey, Surface ISEA branch head at NSWC PCD. "This concept has been adopted by other programs and systems embedded aboard our MCM-1 Class Ships and has expanded the system knowledge across the waterfront while supporting dedicated maintenance and training initiatives for the fleet."
AIT Coordinator Michelle Henderson led a team of 16 people who performed the work onboard the ships. She scheduled dates with the fleet, gained necessary Navy approvals for the AIT to conduct the work, and gathered all necessary documentation. She also served aboard both USS Pioneer (MCM-9) and USS Chief (MCM-14) in preparation for their homeport shifts to Japan, and outlined the coordinated effort between the teams and NSWC PCD's AN/SQQ-32 Depot Repair Facility, or DRF.
"Once we get to the ship, we take the AN/SQQ-32 body from the ship and send it back to Panama City to the depot," said Henderson. "Parts from the AN/SQQ-32 replace sections of the towed body with newer pieces that operate with fewer pieces overall. The depot repair facility is where the majority of the work of building and testing is completed, before it's installed."
According to Coffey, the DRF is an integral part of any in-Service engineering activity supporting the fleet.
"This facility provides engineering, design, modernization, tooling, overhaul and reconditioning, fabrication, and product support for the AN/SQQ-32 sonar system," he said. "These services provide a viable option for life cycle support and sustainment, and continually maintain a readiness posture for our fleet.
Coffey said the DRF offers unique capabilities to repair items that previously could not be repaired. Although initially envisioned through necessity, the depot has a positive impact on operational availability, supply material availability, material readiness, life cycle sustainment and support, and the continual reduction in total ownership costs.
"Safety was our biggest concern, but we installed the systems without issue. We did it timely and safely," said Henderson. "Both ships were modernized in time for them to transit stateside."
This successful fleet response project was able to meet the ships' deployment schedule and is reflective of the mine warfare team at NSWC Panama City responsibilities. Routine deployments help mine warfare Sailors troubleshoot problems and keep their vessels in optimal condition. The team continues to modernize the U.S. Navy's AN/SQQ-32 fleet with six installations scheduled for completion by Jan. 31, 2016.
"One of our core mission areas is mine warfare," said NSWC Panama City Commanding Officer Capt. Phillip Dawson III, USN. "When the fleet has a technical, mine warfare problem, they come to us. They know we can support them."
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