USS Hawaii wins award
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
The submarine USS Hawaii became only the second Naval submarine in history to receive the U.S. Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation for its role in tracking drug runners on its first mission, officials said.
The Virginia-class attack submarine, which is expected to arrive at its new home port at Pearl Harbor for the first time in late July, received the award in Groton, Conn., on Thursday for its part in counter-drug operations off Central or South America.
The operations took place in the Eastern Pacific in support of Joint Interagency Task Force South from Feb. 20 to April 17, 2008, the Navy said.
"I had no imaginable idea that this is what we'd be doing," said Sonar Tech Master Chief Petty Officer Bob Crossno, the chief of the boat for Hawai'i. "We're not doing the stuff we did in the Cold War or World War II. With our advanced technologies, we can interact with other fleets and other services to support maritime security operations."
Much of the submarine's support during the operations is classified, the Navy said.
But according to the citation read during the award presentation, the crew demonstrated "highly professional tracking of suspected drug traffickers and aggressively gathered intelligence on shipping throughout the area of operations (which) directly aided in the interdiction of various drug-laden vessels, seizing large quantities of cocaine and detaining multiple narcotics smugglers."
In addition, the Hawaii was part of a "complex, covert surveillance network involving Navy and Coast Guard surface, subsurface and air assets along with other coalition assets" in this counter-drug effort.
Officials said the Hawaii was operating for at least part of the time with the USS Crommelin, a Pearl Harbor-based frigate, two other ships and P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft.
U.S. Defense Department policy bars the Navy from performing law enforcement duties. Partnering with the Coast Guard makes drug interdictions possible, and Coast Guard personnel fly and operate from Navy helicopters and ships.
Virginia-class submarines are designed to operate in both the open ocean and nearshore shallows, and have improved stealth, sophisticated surveillance capabilities and special warfare enhancements.
Hawaii skipper Cmdr. Ed Herrington told Defense Daily after the 2008 deployment that a limited number of Mk-48 torpedoes were brought along, and the flexibility of the Virginia-class design made it possible to use that extra space for a 25-man berthing module — a first for any submarine — and a crew weight room.
The approximately $2.5 billion USS Hawaii was commissioned on May 5, 2007, in Groton, Conn. The 377-foot sub is 17 feet longer than the 16 Los Angeles-class subs that are based at Pearl Harbor.
The Hawaii's arrival will be followed by that of the Texas, North Carolina and other Virginia-class subs.
The state's namesake submarine, which has the motto Kupale 'Aina (Defending the Land) returned to Groton following last year's deployment for nearly a year's worth of follow-up work during what's known as a post-shakedown availability.
General Dynamics Electric Boat last year was awarded a contract of up to $62 million for the repair work.
The Navy late last year also awarded Electric Boat a $14 billion contract for eight new Virginia-class submarines, with $2.4 billion for the USS North Dakota.