VS-29 Dragonfires - Brief Article on the S3 and its change of Mission

Ted Carlson

On board the Navy's carriers, a versatile platform stands at the ready to perform a variety of missions. Flying the S-3B Viking, the Sea Control Squadron (VS) 29 Dragonfires, NAS North Island, Calif., are assigned to Carrier Air Wing 11 and operate aboard Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Like other VS squadrons, they form a vital part of the carrier air wing.

When it entered the fleet in 1974, "the S-3 was truly the first multimission carrier-based platform," squadron CO Commander Bruce Lindsey explained. At the time "there were light attack aircraft [A-7 Corsair II], medium attack aircraft [A-6 Intruder] and interceptors [F-14 Tomcat]. The S-3 originally had three missions: antisubmarine warfare (ASW), mine warfare and surface search and control. With the end of the Cold War and the diminished submarine threat, the S-3B was deconfigured from the primary ASW role to adapt to the more contemporary surveillance and sea control mission, and the crew was reduced from four to three--a pilot, copilot/tactical coordinator and tactical coordinator.

Today, the Viking continues to be a versatile platform. Lieutenant Cory Christensen said, "The S-3B has been called the 'Swiss army knife of Naval Aviation.' We tank, prosecute surface vessels, help develop a tactical picture for the battle group, and often flex to whatever is required."

"We are the only organic tanker in the fleet that can refuel carrier aircraft and then recover back on board the carrier," stated Lt. Will Reynolds. During carrier flight operations, a Viking equipped with an aerial refueling store stands tanking alert to assist aircraft approaching the carrier in a critical fuel state. If needed, the S-3B will overfly the aircraft during its final approach in case the aircraft bolters and needs to refuel to complete the evolution. "The Viking is a fantastic platform for tanking. It is stable, has tremendous endurance and maintains excellent loiter time while consuming roughly 2,800 pounds of fuel per hour," Lt. Christensen added.

The Viking is also a key surface and underwater warfare platform. It can carry up to 10 weapons at a time, such as AGM-84 Harpoon and AGM-65 Maverick missiles; 500-, 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs; Quickstrike mines; Mk 46 and Mk 50 torpedoes; and tactical air-launched decoys. With this capability, "the air group commander will call upon us first should a threat such as a small boat in the area act in a harassing way," Lt. Don Bowker said.

In both blue water and littoral scenarios, sea control squadrons also orchestrate battle group force protection assets, including nonorganic aircraft such as P-3C Orions, freeing other platforms such as F-14s and F/A-18 Hornets to strike over land. "The S-3B excels at flying low and slow, which it was originally designed to do," Lt. Steve Platt emphasized. "With the higher shipping volume in today's world, you may have 200 different ship contacts in a single day in the Arabian Gulf. The S-3B is vital in identifying friends from foes." The S-3B also works with P-3Cs and SH-60B/F Seahawks in the antisubmarine warfare role, and can drop torpedoes at a point directed by these other aircraft.

The S-3B's electronic support (ESM) suite enables the crew to determine if there are surface-to-air missile threats in an operations area. After ESM signals are received and downloaded, emitter locations are placed on a map that can be printed out and passed along to intelligence personnel. This allows the S-3 to provide a "very wide range of information that it can process and relay to the battle group. The data can be piggy-backed onto what the EP-3E Aries II, E-2C Hawkeye and other ships have also seen," Lt. Bowker explained.

To prepare for the future, "Our squadron takes a proactive role in trying out new S-3 tactics," Lt. Platt said. "We have advanced tactics for the S-3 using our weapon release parameters, and do well with our proven bombing abilities. I love doing my job and wouldn't do anything different."

Although the S-3B is expected to be phased out later this decade, a firm time frame has not been set. Eventually, its roles will be performed by other platforms--surface search and control by the SH-60R Seahawk or the P-3C Update III antisurface warfare improvement program aircraft, and tanking by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Until that time comes, the Viking provides a flexible platform for the battle group, and the Dragonfires are prepared for whatever mission comes their way.

Ted Carlson is a professional photographer whose work regularly appears in Naval Aviation News.

The author acknowledges the following for their support: Cdrs. C. w. Goldacker. Bruce Lindsey and Jack Papp; LCdrs. Sean Skelly and Ike Skelton; Lts. Don Bowker, Lisa Castaneda. Cory Christensen, Steve Platt and Will Reynolds; Chief Brian Q'Rourke; and the many others who assisted with this article.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group


VS-29 Sailors Head For A New Beginning
Story Number: NNS040329-10

By Journalist 3rd Class Lynn Iron, Navy Region Southwest Public Affairs

CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- Sea Control Squadron (VS) 29 “Dragonfires” took its last flight Feb. 24 before its upcoming decommissioning ceremony April 16.

VS-29 has been flying since 1960, but the introduction of advanced aircraft like the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet is gradually phasing out the S-3 Viking aircraft that the squadron flies.

“It is disappointing for everyone to lay to rest a plane that still has life to give,” said VS-29 Executive Officer Halsey Keats. “It has so much to offer in capabilities. We believe that as a team we can still contribute. We were very involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the Navy is moving forward, and the old needs to give way to the new.”

The aircraft, however, are not the only things being affected by the move.

“A lot of the Sailors have to start from scratch and go back to school to learn about a different aircraft, because they have been working on the S-3 most of their careers,” said Keats. “Our main focus right now is to take care of the people before they leave. We want to prepare them for their exams, whether they stay in rate or not, and also work on their evaluation forms for their transfer to their new commands.”

Although the Sailors knew about the upcoming changes, the transformation is still very uncertain for many.

“For a lot of the Sailors, this is a scary experience,” said Master Chief Avionics Technician Robert Donohue. “They have to learn a whole new platform. There is a lot of uncertainty for a lot of folks because they know where they are going, but they are not sure where they will begin.”

For some, the change will take them to another country, while others will be stationed aboard a ship, transfer to Marine Corps Air Station Lemoore or stay in San Diego to work on the same type of aircraft they've been working on.

“From here I will go to VS-41,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Sunny Abrego. “I am looking forward to it. Some of the guys are looking forward to going to work with the F/A-18s. The coolest part about this is that I will be one of the last ones here to watch them close the doors.”

Many of the Sailors have families who will also have to deal with the move, including Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Ernest Reading Jr., who with his wife and two kids, must move to Lemoore.

“Since there were so many aviation Sailors looking for new jobs, we were very limited on our choices,” said Reading. “I had to either move my family overseas or go to Lemoore. We did not really want to move again until our kids got out of school, but the hardest thing for my family to cope with was finding a new house.”

For the pilots, the change was expected but feelings of sadness affected most of them.

“We are always a little sad when our platforms go away,” said Lt. Anthony Morales, assistant operations officer. “This term has been pretty fulfilling as a junior officer. We did our part for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. We did what we were supposed to do. I guess you could say we went out with a bang.”



Sea Control Squadron TWENTY NINE [VS-29]

Two of the US Navy's West Coast S-3B squadrons, VS-29 and VS-38, were disestablished in ceremonies at NAS North Island, California, on 17 April 2004. The Navy's S-3B Sundown Plan calls for the gradual disestablishment of Viking squadrons as the number of operational carrier-based squadrons flying the F/A-18E/F increases. The F/A-18 will take over the aerial tanking role from the S-3.

VS-29 was commissioned 1 April 1960. Since then the "World Famous Dragonfires" of VS-29 have served the United States and the fleet in numerous wars and conflicts and in all major oceans of the globe with aggressive and imaginative tactical employment of the S-2 Tracker and S-3A/B Viking.

In 1961 VS-29 embarked aboard USS KEARSARGE (CVS-33) and in 1962 and 1963 assisted in the recovery of Mercury space capsules. In 1964 the Dragonfires sailed for the Western Pacific Ocean (WESTPAC) and began operations in the South China Sea. From 1966 through 1972 the Dragonfires operated aboard several carriers on deployment to the Gulf of Tonkin.

In 1975, after transitioning from the S-2 Tracker to the S-3A Viking, VS-29 made the first WESTPAC S-3A deployment while attached to Carrier Air Wing Fourteen (CVW-14) embarked on USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65). In 1977 VS-29 deployed as part of CVW-2 aboard USS RANGER (CV-61). The Dragonfires joined CVW-15 in 1981 aboard USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63) for WESTPAC deployment.

VS-29, as part of CVW-15, next deployed aboard USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70) on her maiden voyage. The Dragonfires again cruised aboard VINSON in 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1990. In 1990, the Dragonfires transferred to CVW-11 aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72). In May 1991, VS-29 deployed aboard LINCOLN to the Arabian Gulf. En route to the Gulf, LINCOLN was a key player in Operation Fiery Vigil, the evacuation of Subic Naval Base during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

VS-29 cruised aboard the LINCOLN again in June 1993. Initially VS-29 participated in Operation Southern Watch in Iraq. After two and a half months in the Arabian Gulf, the LINCOLN Battle Group was called away to join Operation Continue Hope, supporting the United Nations humanitarian mission in Somalia.

In April 1995 VS-29 once again set sail for the Arabian Gulf. Dragonfire aircrew flew over 300 sorties and 1000 hours in support of Operation Southern Watch. Heightened tensions in the region forced the LINCOLN Battle Group to remain on station until September in support of Operation Vigilant Sentinel.

Upon their return from WESTPAC '95 the Dragonfires, along with CVW-11, transferred to the USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63). In May 1996 the Dragonfires, as part of the KITTY HAWK Battle Group, participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise'96. In October '96 the Dragonfires deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch. While supporting Operation Southern Watch, the Dragonfires provided aerial refueling, surface search, electronic surveillance for the battle group. After a very successful cruise, the Dragonfires returned home in April '97 to NAS North Island in San Diego California.

Upon its return, the squadron was reattached to the USS CARL VINSON. As part of the VINSON Battle Group, VS-29 again participated in the six nation RIMPAC '98 Exercise. In December 1998, the squadron again deployed to the Persian Gulf and participated in Operation Desert Fox. Given only an hour's notice, VS-29 planned and executed the delivery of 51,000 pounds of fuel for CVW-11's 20 plane Navy-only strike from the USS CARL VINSON, earning their aircrew 10 Air Medals and 10 Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals from Commander United States Naval Forces Central Command. VS-29 participated with CVW-11 in several international exercises including Operation Eager Archer and Neon Falcon in February 1999.

Since returning from deployment in May 1999, the Dragonfires conducted detachments to NAF El Centro, Elmendorf AFB, AK and supported the 1999 Seattle Sea Fair onboard USS CARL VINSON and 1999 San Francisco Fleet Week onboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN. The Dragonfires also visited NAS Whidbey Island, WA, NAS Lemore, CA, and NAS New Orleans JRB as part of CVW-11 integrated training.

In 1999, the Dragonfires received the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet retention Excellence Award and the Navy Unit Commendation Award. They are also the proud recipients of both the 1996 and 1997 CNO Safety Award and the 1998 Golden Anchor Award for Sailor Retention. Other awards received by VS-29 throughout their history include: Chief of Naval Operations Safety "S" in 1961, 1973, 1978, 1983, 1984, and 1993; the Commander Naval Air force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Battle Efficiency "E" in 1965, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1989, 1993, and 1995; the Lockheed Corporation Golden Wrench Award for maintenance excellence in 1981, 1990, and 1994; the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific fleet Golden Anchor Award for personnel program excellence in 1993; a Meritorious Unit Commendation for outstanding performance in 1969, 1985, and 1993; the Commander, Sea Control Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet "Top Torp" Award for weapons proficiency in 1994; the the Commander, Sea Control Wing, U.S. Pacific fleet Commodore's Cup in 1995; and the CAPT Arnold Jay Isbell trophy for Anti-Submarine Warfare excellence in 1995. Most recently, the Dragonfires were awarded the Chief of Naval Operations Safety award for 1996 and 1997.