US Navy Shifts Assets to Support Security Missions

USS Emory S. Land (AS-39), an L.Y. Spear-class submarine tender commissioned in 1979 and home-ported in La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy, returned in March from a deployment to the African nations of Cameroon, Gabon, and Ghana on a mission far removed from its original duties as a sea-based maintenance facility for US Los Angeles-class submarines. The Land, dispatched by Commander, Submarines, Allied Naval Forces South, spent the past several months helping these coastal nations develop a better ability to secure their sea borders against illegal trafficking, fisheries protection, and protection against terrorism. Nations in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea are facing increased problems with smuggling, piracy, and illegal dealings in drugs and weapons. Landís crew was also heavily involved in helping repair ships of the host nations. The 23,000 ton ship carries 53 maintenance shops and is equipped with the Navmacs V2+ satellite communications system. Landís mission will be continued this summer by the sailing of USCGC Bear (WMEC-901), a medium endurance cutter based in Portsmouth, VA. Bear will continue Landís work with the same African navies.

The idea for this deployment of US ships originated in October, 2004, at a regional maritime security and anti-terrorism conference attended by representatives from 17 nations. The conference was called to discuss securing coastal oil rigs against terrorist attacks, and grew to include a broader array of coastal security concerns concerning search and rescue, countering terrorism from the sea, combating piracy, and enhancing border security. Aside from the US, representatives from Britain, Portugal, Spain, and France were involved.

A spokesman for Commander, Sixth Fleet, said that in addition to Landís crew, this deployment also involved a special US Navy training team from Rota, Spain, plus a detachment of embarked US Marines. The special training teams included experts in explosive ordnance disposal, anti-terrorism, and construction. This deployment was sparked not only by 2004ís meeting but by the USí belief that the better equipped and trained are smaller nationsí navies to combat terrorism, the better for all sea-going powers.

While the spokesman would not elaborate, he did say that such non-traditional missions for US warships will continue and may expand in the ongoing effort to protect against terrorism from the sea. In fact, Navy leaders in both the US and Europe are reportedly ever more focused on what the Navy calls effects-based operations (EBO) when determining how best to use naval assets in theater; EBO focuses all planning and execution efforts on the identification and achievement of specific end results, or "desired effects," rather than upon judging success simply based upon the more traditional means of number of ships used, number of hours flown, number of man hours, etc.

The US Navy currently operates 55 submarines Ė half the number that were in commission when Emory S. Land was launched. With the US Navy now half the size it was when the Berlin Wall fell, it seems a safe bet that non-traditional roles for its ships will become more the norm than the exception.

USS Emory S. Land Ė a submarine support ship Ė finds new work in helping combat terrorism.