Last week, Fleet Master Chief Stevens and I visited Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron FOURTEEN (HM-14) – the Vanguard. HM-14 is one of two of our Navy’s Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) and heavy lift helicopter squadrons and with 17 MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters and over 700 members; they’re certainly one of the largest. HM-14 is also a self-contained squadron capable of deploying anywhere in the world, ashore or afloat, within 72 hours, for sustained operations.
Reviewing the logs in the maintenance work center during a
walkthrough of a maintenance procedure. I was very
impressed with the knowledge, skills and professionalism
of our HM-14 Sailors.
The squadron gave me a very useful “day in the life” of an HM-14 Sailor which included a start-to-finish walkthrough of discovering an aircraft discrepancy through final completion of a maintenance action. While this process may seem fairly routine for any aviation squadron, when you consider the age of the squadron’s aircraft (20+ years old) and the cost to operate ($14,000 per flight hour), the skill and experience required to keep them running efficiently and effectively quickly becomes apparent; they truly have to make every dollar count!
In the back of an MH-53E helo - a truly unique (and very large)
aircraft. In addition to MCM missions, the MH-53E, the largest
helo in our Navy, is often used for vertical onboard delivery
and heavy lift operations.
The Sailors of HM-14 also provided me with a detailed overview of the equipment used to execute the AMCM mission and a walkthrough of the MH-53E – a truly unique (and massive) Navy helicopter. Although the squadron’s primary mission is rapid AMCM, the sheer size of the MH-53E enables the squadron to execute vertical onboard delivery and heavy life operations such as those during Operation Unified Response in Haiti last year. The squadron arrived on station in Haiti within 12 hours of being notified and subsequently delivered over 1,000,000 pounds of food, water and medical supplies to victims within days.
The sonar mine-hunting device used to locate, classify, and
mark the location of mines and mine-like objects on and
beneath the surface.
But Mine Warfare is also a critical capability for our Navy and one which HM-14 must always be ready to execute. Especially if you consider we live in a global economy where 90% of all commerce is transported by ship and every day a quarter of the world’s trade in transit flows through the Straits of Malacca and a third of the world’s oil in transit passes through the Straits of Hormuz. Mining is an asymmetric threat that is a fast and cheap way for our enemies to significantly disrupt our nation’s commerce.
Receiving an overview of the capabilities of the magnetic
minesweeper, better known as the "sled" - a critical
component of the MCM package.
Our MCM force is currently undergoing a lot of change; most notably with the new and significant capabilities that will be fielded with LCS. But until we have those systems fully tested and deployed in the Fleet, we absolutely must sustain what we currently have by devoting the required resources to flight hours, maintenance and (most importantly) training. After all, the MCM mission may not receive as much attention from the press as some of our other core Navy capabilities, but like I told our HM-14 Sailors, the service they provide our nation is very much like FEDEX – when we need it, we need it bad, and it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. And they showed me they are more than capable of delivering. A great visit with a great squadron!