IMDEX 2019: USS Blue Ridge gains new lease on life
The US Navy’s oldest operational vessel, USS Blue Ridge, arrived in Hong Kong for a port call on 20 April, fresh from a major upgrade that will keep it in service as the 7th Fleet’s flagship for the foreseeable future.
Commissioned on 14 November 1970 and homeported in Yokosuka, Japan since July 1979, USS Blue Ridge provides a mobile C2 capability for the 7th Fleet throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
LCC 19 displaces 19,000t, measures 194m long and had a crew of around 1,000 at the time of its visit to Hong Kong. Embarked aboard were two MH-60S Seahawk helicopters from HSC-12.
CAPT Eric Anduze took over command of LCC 19 in mid-November 2018. He explained: ‘Over the last few years…we’ve done a lot of maintenance to the ship and we’re extremely happy to be back out to sea enjoying and sharing with our friends and partners in the region.’
Responding to Shephard during a media engagement aboard his vessel, he outlined some of the upgrade work. ‘Over the past three years, we did repairs to the boilers – the ship being built in 1970, it’s a steamship with two boilers, one main steam engine, and we did a lot of repairs to some of the equipment there.’
Anduze added: ‘We also did a complete refurbishment of our communications and network system. We installed what is called CANES, the Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise Systems, and it has leaps and bounds more capabilities than what it had before. It provides the commander of 7th Fleet with the ability to conduct exercises, real-world operations and to communicate with his fleet without hesitation from anywhere in the world pier-side or at sea.’
CANES is a Northrop Grumman product that modernises C4I network systems. The manufacturer says that its open-architecture solution ‘offers considerable cost and performance improvements over existing shipboard networks including a cyber-hardened, flexible architecture to securely deliver mission-critical C4I applications’.
Since Northrop Grumman was selected in 2012, CANES has been progressively rolled out on USN surface combatants, submarines and shore-based installations as part of a long-term programme. At the time of award, the project was valued at $12.7 billion.
However, the Government Accountability Office released a report in May 2018 that stated the programme was then 2.5 years behind schedule due to prolonged maintenance periods and lengthy budget and approval processes.
USS Blue Ridge’s maintenance programme was conducted at its home port in Japan. Fresh from its upgrade, the vessel is slated to continue serving as flagship from Yokosuka until 2039, this date being 29 years longer than it was originally expected to remain in service.
During its current deployment, the ship has transited the South China Sea. Anduze declared: ‘So we have been operating in the South China Sea and, as part of navigating the waters, we encountered not only Chinese but several other navies in our time. You want to know how was the interaction, right? I can tell you that every interaction I’ve had with every single navy has been safe and professional. We navigate that way, we follow the rules and international law, and so far that’s exactly what I’ve seen from everybody else.’
VADM Phillip Sawyer, commander of the 7th Fleet, was not aboard the ship when it arrived in Hong Kong, but he had previously stayed aboard.
Just a week earlier, the US Coast Guard cutter USCGC Bertholf visited Hong Kong, demonstrating that the USCG is eyeing a larger role in the Asia-Pacific region.
Blue Ridge appeared at LIMA 2019 in Langkawi in late March, before sailing to Hong Kong.
USS Blue Ridge, like every other vessel from the 7th Fleet, was absent from the PLA Navy’s 70th anniversary fleet review in waters off Qingdao on 23 April.
After the crash of a Japanese F-35A fighter in waters 85 miles east of Misawa on 9 April, the 7th Fleet deployed the destroyer USS Stethem as well as numerous P-8A Poseidon flights to help the search and rescue effort. However, Anduze said of his command: ‘We were too far south to have any role in the search and rescue.’
Japan recovered some wreckage from the F-35A, but the pilot has not been found to date. Given the sophistication of the F-35 stealth fighter, there was concern in some quarters about China or Russia attempting to sneak in and salvage aircraft parts.
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