Winston Churchill remarked, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”
In early August, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Navy forces, deployed to the Fifth Fleet area of operations with the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, looked back to practice fighting at sea with a nearly 100-year-old command, control, and communications tactic, Shawn Snow (Marine Corps Times) reported. Increasing concerns about the fragility of military cyber, electronic warfare, navigation, and “tech-adept” forces in future war, caused the services to prepare for uninterrupted electronic communications on the battlefield.
According to Petty Officer First Class Lynn Andrews, the “bean-bag drop” originated in World War II as a way to limit radio transmission. Andrews explains, “U.S. Navy pilots beat enemy eavesdropping by flying low and slow above the flight deck and dropping a weighted cloth container with a note inside.”
Crew members with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21, flying an MH-60S Sea-hawk, conducted a bean-bag message drop onto the flight deck of the USS Boxer (LHD-4) as a proof of concept. After the message was dropped, a sailor simply ran and scooped up and delivered the message to the commanding officer.
“We’ve got the best communication technology onboard our [helicopters],” said Navy Lieutenant Taryn Steiger, the pilot who flew the drop. “But today we practiced the use” of a less technological method.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Brown, the HSC-21 detachment commander, said, “Together HSC-21 crew and [the] Boxer demonstrated timely communication from the aircraft to the ship during EmCon [emissions control] procedures.”
Churchill would be pleased.
Don’t Call Them ‘Flipper’
The Navy maintains several types of Marine Mammal Systems, specially trained bottlenose dolphins and sea lions, for mine detection and neutralization, swimmer defense, and recovery of mines, torpedoes, and other objects. In some situations, the marine mammals are much more effective than humans or hardware, and they are the only mine countermeasures system that can detect buried bottom mines. Billions of years of evolution have made dolphin echolocation capabilities second to none, and sea lions have cat-like vision even in the darkest depths.
The program dates to 1959, when the Navy used a Pacific white-sided dolphin to improve high-speed torpedoes. In 1965, a dolphin supported the SeaLab II experiment. Swimmer-defense dolphins have protected vital harbors and waterways, and mine countermeasures dolphins deployed to the Arabian Gulf in 1988 during Operation Earnest Will, in 1991–92 for Operation Desert Storm, and 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2019, each “system” has several dolphins or sea lions that can be deployed throughout the world by strategic airlift and also can be worked from ships in forward operating areas and facilities on land. The mammals are homeported in San Diego.
There are at least five types of marine mammal units in the Navy:
Mk 4 Mod 0 dolphins detect and neutralize buoyant close-tethered mines near the bottom.
Mk 5 Mod 1 sea lions attach recovery pendants to exercise mines, torpedoes, and other test objects, as well as other items of interest, at depths greater than 1,000 feet.
Mk 6 Mod 1 dolphins defend harbors, anchorages, and individual ships against combat swimmers and divers, a capability that was first used at Cam Rhan Bay,
Vietnam, in 1970.
Mk 7 dolphins detect, locate, and mark or neutralize bottom mines (buried and otherwise) in a post-assault environment for follow-on forces insertion.
Mk 8 dolphins are taught to detect, locate, and mark or neutralize “proud” as well as buried bottom mines in a pre-assault environment to enable the initial assault to get ashore.