Letter to the Editor (or comment on Blog)
Aviation Week & Space Technology
Dear Mr. Fabey:
This is in response to your article “NavWeek: Speed Quest”. You state the following, referencing David Rudko’s March 2003 thesis, “Logistical Analysis of the Littoral Combat Ship,” prepared for the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California:
“Then came the Pegasus class missile hydrofoils. “The initial concept was to establish a squadron of missile hydrofoils, each carrying a different modular weapons package, capable of functioning collectively as one multi-mission conventional warship.”
He points out, “Due to the inability to incorporate a modular weapons capability into the missile hydrofoil design, the squadron concept never came to fruition and the missile hydrofoil’s limited role was not in keeping with the Navy’s emphasis on multi-purpose ships that were more adaptable to the full spectrum of naval operations.”
In fact, the above commentary on the PHM 1 (PEGASUS) Class missile hydrofoils is inaccurate. The following discussion will shed some light on the background for the PHM Program and its very successful operational history. I should begin by noting that the initial concept was not based on different PHMs carrying different modular weapons packages. PHMs were designed for the primary mission of Surface Warfare, with self-defense capability against surface and airborne threats.
The need for a relatively small, fast ship to counter the proliferation of Soviet and Warsaw Pact missile boats, such as the Soviet hydrofoil BABOCHKA was articulated in the late 1960s by NATO’s Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command. This requirement was researched by the appropriate groups within the NATO Naval Armaments Group (NNAG) ultimately leading to a tripartite agreement between United States,the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy in 1972 , for the design, development and acquisition of the NATO PHM . This program was strongly supported by ADM Elmo Zumwalt, who was then the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The PHM was to play a major role in his new “high-low mix” vision for the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding program. In November 1972, the NATO PHM Project Office and Steering Committee were formed. The USA was the lead nation for design, development, and acquisition and chaired the three-nation steering Committee. The agreed basic operational characteristics for the PHM are shown here.
Displacement: 250 Tonnes
Length: 132.9 ft
Beam: 28.2 ft (hull) 47.5 ft. (foils)
Propulsion: 1-LM-2500 (Foilborne) 2- MTU diesels (1630 hp) (Hullborne)
Crew: 4 Officers / 19 Enlisted
Foilborne Speed: 40+ knots, Sea State 0 40 knots, Sea State 5 (10 ft. significant wave height)
Hullborne Speed: 11 knots, Sea State 0
Range: 750 nm foilborne at 40 knots/1200 nm at 11 knots
Draft: 7.5 ft (foils raised) / 23ft (foils lowered)
Since the earliest days of planning, it had been expected that the ships would be utilized in the NATO Areas of Operations, primarily the Mediterranean, with occasional excursions into the North Sea and the Baltic. This planning was consistent with and responsive to the original requirement enunciated by NATO in the early ‘60s. The absence of a dedicated support ship (among other things) to accompany the PHMs on long open ocean transits, made the concept of overseas home-porting an attractive one compared to relatively frequent transits from the US to the European theater. The US Commander in Europe agreed and plans were made to homeport the ships at Augusta Bay, Sicily, which is centrally located for employment and close to NATO and US national support.. It was the desire of the US Atlantic Fleet Commander, who would retain many support functions for the ships, that a trial deployment be conducted by one
or two PHMs prior to full-scale home-porting. Delays in delivery of the production PHMs and concern about PHM 1(PEGASUS) material condition resulted in several cancelled trial deployments. PEGASUS was home-ported initially at Little Creek, VA in 1979, awaiting the arrival of her sister ships.
In 1980 her homeport was shifted to Key West Florida where she could participate in the
US Navy’s contribution to the “War on Drugs” while awaiting delivery of PHMs 2-6. The production ships and the shore-based, transportable PHM Mobile Logistic Support Group (MLSG) housed in ISO-size containers were delivered to Key West over the next three years, with the full squadron ( PHMRON TWO) being constituted in Spring of 1983.
Concurrently, the Navy put the overseas home-porting plan on indefinite hold, in order to refine the PHM logistic concept, to develop tactics and generally gain more experience with the ships. This plan was never revisited, and for the next ten years PHMs operated solely in the Caribbean, western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. In that time the ships’ operational employment was similar to other USN ships operating in these areas:
• PHMs provided a two-ship detachment for the invasion of Grenada in Operation
• Every deploying Battle Group Trained with PHMs- which were usually simulating opposition forces (e.g., Boghammars in the Persian Gulf).
• Port Visits were conducted in the Caribbean and in the US from Texas to Bar Harbor, Maine
• PHMs operated with Latin American navies and with visiting European navies
• PHMs developed and practiced fast ship tactics.
• PHMs conducted three trial deployments, San Diego to Pearl Harbor (one ship) , Puerto Rico (3 ship detachment) and Grenada (entire squadron) but never deployed out of theater.
The operations they excelled in were counter-drug operations, since the USCG WSES surface effect ships did not possess the combination of speed and seakeeping required to conduct intercepts of the small high-speed boats operated by drug runners. During their operations in the Caribbean Basin, the PHM Squadron (6 ships equating to only 3% of the Navy’s ship count) achieved the following:
• 30% of Navy-assisted “Busts” with 225,000 lbs of marijuana and 12,000 lbs of cocaine seized with a Street Value $1.2 Billion
• Received 22 Unit Awards from USCG andthis citation: PHM is: “Superior Platform… the most effective surface asset . . .” (in many counter-drug scenarios): Commander USCG District 7 (AUG ‘92)
Despite the remarkable contribution these ships had made to our national objectives, the US Navy decided in June 1992 to decommission them, citing their expense to operate. Since PHM operating costs were very modest – only about 1/3 the cost of an FFG 7, many PHM advocates believe that the six PHMs were sacrificed early in the post-cold war naval drawdown to avoid loss of an equal number of larger, more capable ships.
Whatever the motivation, the ships were decommissioned in July 1993 with at least ten years of expected service life remaining. The Navy made no concerted effort to find other utilization for them, and eventually they were sold for scrap.
These comments are offered in order to avoid any misconceptions about PHM operational requirements and in-service mission performance.
Mark R. Bebar
PHM 1 Feasibility Study Project Naval Architect (1971 – 1972)
Naval Ship Engineering Center (NAVSEC)
PHM 3 Series Design Integration Manager (1975 – 1978)
Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)
President – International Hydrofoil Society (IHS) http://www.foils.org
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