Pacific Ocean - Amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) successfully engaged a target drone with a NATO Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile during a fleet firing exercise off the coast of the U.S. territory of Guam as part of the exercise, Valiant Shield 2016 (VS16), September 18.
Senior Chief Fire Controlman Joshua Patat, Bonhomme Richard's combat systems maintenance manager, said the launch was conducted to test the ship's self-defense capabilities, as well as watchstanders' abilities to respond to an anti-ship cruise missile threat.
"It's been five years since the last time we fired our NATO system and it operated perfectly," said Patat. "I've seen four NATO launches in my career, and I have to say this was the best and smoothest one I've ever seen. The drone ran its course as we planned, the system tracked it the whole way, and NATO killed it just as the system was designed to do."
A great deal of hard work by Bonhomme Richard's crew went into preparing the equipment and making sure all the launchers were properly maintained. Additionally, the fire controlmen ran training scenarios to practice.
"I was tracking the drone as it was coming in on our target video," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Amanda Bradberry, one of Bonhomme Richard's NATO technicians. "Watching it actually explode when it hit the target was really cool. None of us have ever seen that before and [it] was a great new experience."
"As the FOC (firing officer's console) operator, I had to make sure everyone was tracking the target," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Corie Hill. "When the launcher was lined up with the drone, I pushed the fire button to launch the missile. Then I heard the whoosh and I felt a definite 'whoosh' of excitement myself."
Before the launch, safety was the number one priority, ensuring no other ships were in the area and no people were outside the skin of the ship.
"There are many safety concerns when it comes to a missile launch," said Hill. "We don't want anyone that's sailing nearby being hit with the drone or personnel being injured on deck by a potential rogue drone or the missile launch."
All the hard work culminated in a safe and successful launch, and drone engagement.
"The launch was phenomenal," said Patat. "Down in CIC (Combat Information Center) it erupted in applause, 'fist-bumping' everywhere. We were really excited, but had to calm back down to make sure we kept tracking in the event of a rogue drone. It was amazing to see so many long days culminate in a fantastic, four-minute evolution."
"We finally got to do what FCs are meant to do," said Bradberry. "Everyone always jokes, 'all you guys do is push buttons,' and today we actually got to push a button to launch the missile, which is something that doesn't happen often for FCs in their career."
According to Patat, Bradberry, and Hill, the launch proved the system operates as designed. It also provided FCs with the opportunity to show the crew what they are trained to do.
Bonhomme Richard, flagship of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, is currently participating in VS16. VS16 is a biennial, U.S.-only, field training exercise (FTX) with a focus on integration of joint training among U.S. forces. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land, and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas.