Under the command of Col. Eric Steidl, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (22 MEU) includes the 2nd Battalion/2nd Marine Division with approximately 2,000 US Marine 'Grunts' on board. (Some of them can be seen here about to board a MV-22B Osprey on 13th January 2012 fully kitted up for an assault).
Now on the homeward leg of her ten and a half month cruise Col. Eric Steidl (C.O. 22nd MEU) said: "This has been an epic deployment. Not just in terms of duration, but for flexibility and adaptability the amphibious forces provide the combatant commander".
During her long deployment the Bataan has conducted maritime security operations, theatre security co-operation actions and joint military exercises with regional partners in the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. The Bataan's units were relieved of their duties in the US 5th Fleet as of 6th January, at which time they came under the auspices of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean.
Our MV-22B Osprey (callsign, 'Thunder 11') sits in early morning light at Hyeres, France, just after sunrise
We had departed the Bataan just before sunrise for the 30 minute flight to the mainland
Powering off the end of the flight deck another AV-8B gets into the air
An AV-8B 'Night Attack' Harrier basks in the warm Mediterranean sun
We would like to thank the following for their assistance in making this article possible:-
Cdr Marc Boyd & Lt. Sean Riordan (6th Fleet Public Affairs)
Capt. Erik Ross (Commander USS Bataan)
Lt. K. Cerezo, Ens. R. Garcia and Ens. G. Brown (USS Bataan)
Seen from 'Vultures Row', a complement of two HSC-28 Sikorsky MH-60S SeaHawk helicopters provided SAR duties
Hooked up to a tug, this Harrier is about to be moved to one of the aircraft elevators that take aircraft to and from the hanger deck below
Unlike the much larger US Navy carriers the hanger deck is relatively small and can accommodate very few aircraft
'Bataan Amphibious Ready Group'
(22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit)
Vertical take-off MV-22 style
#165385/EG50 basks in glorious Mediterranean sunshine on the USS Bataan
Early morning and #166742 reflects the orange glow of the sun as it rises in the Straits of Messina
One of the U.S Navy MH-60S helicopters catches the early morning sun on the flight deck of the Bataan
Rotor-blades turning, #167910 is almost ready to get airborne
A nice shot from the loading ramp of our MV-22 Osprey as 'Thunder 42' gets up close and personal
Ready to depart the Bataan, this 'Ace of Spades' AV-8B(NA) awaits the release signal that will clear it to launch
One of two Raytheon Phalanx CIWS (Close-in Weapons System) advanced radar-controlled guns aboard the USS Bataan (left). The system provides defense against close-in air and surface threats and is a rapid-fire, computer-controlled, radar-guided system designed to defeat anti-ship missiles and other close-in air and surface threats. The Phalanx can be used against threats such as helicopters and high-speed surface vessels, and the Block 1B model adds new control stations with situational awareness that allows operators to visually track and identify targets before engagement. Raytheon's Phalanx CIWS is installed on practically all U.S. combatant ships and on those of twenty-two other allied nations. The Phalanx is the most numerous CIWS (known as 'Sea-wizz') in the world and like other close-in weapon systems, provides ships with a terminal defense against anti-ship missiles that have penetrated other fleet defenses. The Block 1B improvements include Optimized Gun Barrels (OGB) and a new integrated forward looking infrared system (FLIR). The OGB are electrically controlled, pneumatically driven and fire a new Enhanced Lethality Cartridge. The Phalanx FLIR provides increased capability to search, track and engage coastal warfare threats, as well as provide better anti-ship missile defence.
Outbound to the USS Bataan
U.S.S Bataan facts & figures:-
The USS Bataan (LHD-5) was commissioned on 20th September 1997 as the fifth ship in the 'Wasp' Class of United States Navy multi-purpose amphibious assault ships. Her maiden voyage was made to the Mediterranean in 2000 and she was named to honour the defence by the US Marines of the Bataan Peninsula in the Phillipines during World War II. The USS Bataan's mission is to enable the Navy and Marine Corps to accomplish a smooth transition from the sea to the land as the lead ship of an ARG. LHDs are designed to transport, deploy and command all elements of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of some 2,000 Marines, inserting the force ashore using a variety of helicopters, landing craft and amphibious vehicles. The 'Wasp' Class ships are the first to utilise landing craft air-cushioned vehicles (LCACs) for assault and can also accommodate the full range of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters, tanks, artillery and other supplies necessary to support the assault force.
Having been moved to one of the aircraft elevators, this AV-8 is almost ready to drop down to the hanger deck below
HMLA-167 still operates the venerable UH-1N variant of the Huey, although the crews told us they still love to fly it
Conversion to the vastly improved UH-1Y Venom is currently underway at MCAS New River
HMLA-167 'Warriors' provided the UH-1N and the AH-1W complement of VMM-263 REIN (Reinforced)
Nominally based at MCAS New River, North Carolina as part of MAG-29, HMLA-167 had 3 x UH-1N and 4 x AH-1Ws on board the Bataan
With the sun now fully illuminating the flight deck, operations begin on the USS Bataan
Looking towards the bow of the ship a MV-22B Osprey can be seen being dragged into position
Both the AV-8B(NA) and AV-8B+ Harrier were on board the Bataan
The different nose configuration between the 'NIght Attack' version and the 'Plus' can clearly be seen in the photo above
The radar on the plus version adds approximately 1,000lbs to the overall weight of the aircraft
Of the complement of seven on board, there were two 'NA' and five 'Plus' airframes
Firmly chained down to stop any movement due to the pitch and roll of the ship, this AV-8B+ Harrier awaits its call to duty
'Thunder 42 & 43' follow us out of NAS Sigonella, Sicily on our way to the USS Bataan
Early afternoon and flight deck qualifications are in full swing.'EG13' gets its pre-flight checks
The Mediterranean Sea, January 2012. The USS Bataan is on the homeward leg of her latest cruise heading for Norfolk Naval Dockyard, Virginia having departed her home port on 23rd March 2011 in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn (Operation Odyssey Dawn was the codename for the U.S part of the international military operation in Libya). Under the command of Capt. Erik Ross with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) on board, Jetwash Aviation Photos was privileged to be invited aboard to report on the Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) as she completed a ten and a half month cruise that took her to both the U.S. Navy 5th & 6th Fleets area of operations. The two other ships making up the ARG are the USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) amphibious transport dock (which housed the CH-53Es at the time of our visit) and the USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41) dock landing ship. The Aviation Combat Element (ACE) on board the Bataan is VMM-263 (REIN) and as with any MEU is formed around the medium helicopter unit (HMM), or as in the case of the Bataan ARG, the medium tilt-rotor unit (VMM).
HMLA-167 UH-1N Huey on the Bataan. Whilst assigned to the MEU all aircraft wear the markings of VMM-263(REIN)
The same also applies to the pilots, no HMLA-167 squadron badges being in evidence
They were also specifically designed to carry a squadron of AV-8B Harrier II attack jets for operational support as well as the recently introduced Bell/Boeing MV-22 Osprey and the future F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In fact the Bataan was the first ship to carry the MV-22 for an operational deployment. At 42,252 tons the USS Bataan is 844 feet in length and has a beam of 106 feet. Her well deck is 267 feet long and is capable of holding three LCACs. Two steam propulsion units generating 70,000 SHP drive the ship in excess of 24 knots. Her defensive systems include 2 x RAM Launchers (Anti-Ship Guided missile system), 2 x NATO Sea Sparrow Launchers (All-weather anti-ship cruise missile), 2 x 20mm Phalanx (Close range radar-uided cannon), 4 x 0.5 inch machine guns and 4 x 25mm Mk.38 machine guns.
Italian Navy AV-8B+ #MM7213 arrives aboard the USS Bataan to be ferried back to NAD Cherry Point for upgrade
After the US exchange pilot (Capt. Chris Kennedy) carries out his final checks, the Italian 'groundie' gets to work on flushing out any sea water from the engine
There's not much room in an MV-22 when loaded with combat-ready US Marines of the 2nd Battalion/2nd Marines
Bell AH-1W Super-Cobra #160742 carrying out Flight Deck Qualifications on 13th January 2012
Note that the turret-mounted 20mm nose-cannon is missing
With flights op's almost ready to start #164544 soaks up the sun on the flight deck
Despite the appearance of warmer climes, it is still January and when the wind chill is added it's a cold environment to work in
VMA-231 'Ace of Spades' provided the close air support element of VMM-263 REIN in the guise of the AV-8B Harrier II
Like the other units VMA-231 is based in North Carolina, albeit at MCAS Cherry Point
Our journey to the USS Bataan begins as our MV-22B Osprey taxies out at NAS Sigonella, Sicily
The first in a three-ship flight we are followed out by #166495 of VMM-263 with Mount Etna visible in the background
'CAG Bird' #165385 hovers over the flight deck as it battles the strong wind during its landing phase at the stern of the ship
The pitch and roll of the ship is a test for even an experienced pilot
With flight deck operations in full swing, #164126 powers down the Bataan's flight deck prior to getting airborne
McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B+ Harrier II #MM7213/1-07 from the Italian Navy's Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati based at Grottaglie
Jetwash Aviation Photos spent three days on board the Bataan whilst she cruised through the Mediterranean Sea towards her final two port visits at Rota, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal and with her complement of MV-22B Osprey, AV-8B Harrier II, AH-1W Cobra, UH-1N Huey and MH-60S' on board there was plenty of interest in the ship's aviation element to keep us busy.