JUNE 15, 2017, USS BONHOMME RICHARD, Pacific Ocean – Marines with Marine Attack Squadron 311, currently attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), conducted training with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System for the first time in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region during live-fire training in the skies above the W-183 range training area, Okinawa, Japan, June 9, 2017.
VMA-311 pilots fly AV-8B Harrier jets – fixed-wing aircraft capable of operating from the flight decks of amphibious warfare vessels.
The Harriers launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), the flagship of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group. VMM-265 is the Aviation Combat Element of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is currently embarked aboard the ships of the BHR ESG for a routine patrol of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
The APKWS is a low-cost, laser-guided, modular system that attaches to unguided munitions. The APKWS gives Harrier pilots a lighter, precision air-to-ground attack option. Harrier pilots usually fire unguided rockets or drop unguided 500-pound bombs to destroy enemy threats, according to Capt. Paul M. Gucwa, a Harrier pilot with VMA-311.
“We took eight shots and hit the target with all eight, and every single one of them was perfect,” said Gucwa. “It worked completely as advertised. From bringing the system up from the bottom of the ship all the way to putting them on the target, it all went absolutely outstanding.”
Before mounting the weapons, VMA-311 aviation ordnance Marines pulled eight 2.75 inch rockets out of the BHR’s munitions magazines, where ordnance is stored when the ship is underway. They then affixed the APKWSs to a pair of Harriers before the pilots departed the BHR, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Eric J. McCoy.
“It’s incredible to see the pilots come back with no ordnance after seeing my Marines out on the flight deck training and sweating under the sun,” said McCoy.
Throughout the training, aviation ordnance Marines worked alongside their Navy counterparts on the flight deck to prepare the AKPWS and to ensure safety for all involved. According to McCoy, refining the Navy-Marine Corps team was a supplementary goal of the exercise.
“Not only did we conduct this exercise to test VMA-311’s ability to tactically employ the weapon system, but also to test both VMA-311 and our Navy partners’ proficiency at supporting the ESG’s mission,” said McCoy.
The 31st MEU partners with the Navy’s Amphibious Squadron 11 to form the amphibious component of the BHR ESG. The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 combine to provide a cohesive blue-green team capable of accomplishing a variety of missions across the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
By Cpl. Amaia Unanue, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit