March 12, 2009:
The U.S. Navy has sent another, larger, amphibious ship, the USS Boxer, to join the anti-piracy Task Force 151 off the northern coast of Somalia, and take over as flagship of the task force. Two months earlier, the U.S. amphibious ship USS San Antonio arrived off the coast of Somalia, to serve as the flagship of the anti-piracy Task Force 151. Last month, the USS Vella Gulf, a cruiser, took over as flagship of TF 151. The San Antonio then returned to the United States. On its way out, the San Antonio had to stop in a Persian Gulf port to make some emergency repairs.
The Boxer is an LHD type vessel, displacing 41,000 tons (64 percent larger than the San Antonio). Unlike the San Antonio, the Boxer has arrived with its normal load of marines (a reinforced battalion) and aircraft (several dozen helicopters). The ship also has landing craft and a beach master unit (for managing cargo and troop movements across a beach.) There are 1,800 marines and 1,100 sailors on the Boxer.
The San Antonio is an LPD 17 type vessel. It displaces 24,900 tons and is 684 feet long. It has a crew of 360, and normally 720 marines and all their equipment are carried. For the anti piracy mission, there are only a few hundred specialist personnel embarked, including a platoon of American marines and a platoon of army military police. There is 25,000 square feet for vehicle storage and a 24 bed hospital, with two operating rooms and the ability to set up another hundred beds in an emergency.
Apparently, only three HH-60H helicopters (a seagoing Blackhawk) are on board, and none of the usual amphibious vehicles or hovercraft. However, the San Antonio could handle any of the helicopters used by the 15-20 warships in Task Force 150, as well as UAVs. The San Antonio also has an extensive and very modern CIC (combat information center) for use by Task Force commanders. Communications are excellent as well, including a satellite Internet link. The well deck could accommodate small patrol boats or USVs (unmanned surface vessels used for patrolling).
San Antonio was the first of the class, and had many teething problems. The builders did a sloppy job, and it took a year, and several hundred million dollars, to get everything fixed. San Antonio became available for service late last year. The anti-piracy duty is the first assignment for the San Antonio.
The Boxer has been in service for 14 years, and has spent a lot of time in the Persian Gulf. The only reason for adding the Boxer to Task Force 151 is to either conduct amphibious operations, or to shake up the pirates by threatening to do so.