Fire Controlmen feed 20mm tungsten rounds into one of the close-in-weapons systems (CIWS) aboard Stennis. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate.)

Story and photo by
MC3 Kenneth Abbate

With the words ‘missile inbound from the port side’ roaring over the 1MC during general quarters, one can’t help but wonder: What are the ship’s defensive measures should drill become reality?

John C. Stennis’ Combat Systems and Weapons Departments are responsible for maintaining and operating the ship’s weapons systems.

As Stennis prepares to go back to sea from a planned maintenance period, the operability of its defense systems is vital to ensure its warfare capability.

“When a target becomes hostile, the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) will announce over the 1MC ‘man all air defense stations’,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Christopher Heiser. “All fire controlmen not on watch will spring into action. We will have all our systems armed and ready within seven minutes. We can track and engage several targets at the same time, which ensures that nothing will get past us.”

Combat Systems uses three different weapons 2010systems based on distance from the target and severity of the situation; the Re-architectured NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System (RNSSMS), Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) and close-in-weapons-system (CIWS). Weapons Department uses .50 caliber and M240 machine guns designed to protect the ship from small boat contacts.

The RNSSMS is the first line of defense, able to take out any incoming air or surface targets within 9-12 nautical miles. RAM, the second line of defense, can engage air targets inside 5-7 nautical miles. The CIWS provides the last line of defense by taking out targets within one nautical mile.

“The ship’s defensive weapons are the last thing between you and an incoming attack,” said Operations Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Kyle Novak, who worked with Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar systems, the shore version of CIWS, while filling an individual augmentee billet in Balad, Iraq in 2009. “CIWS in particular is great because it will lock on directly to whatever is inbound and will not stop shooting until the target is destroyed.”

Most Sailors never experience the fear of facing a real life threat that requires them to react on instinct. In the case of Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class David Jones, skills and training were put to the test when reacting to a threat while deployed last year.

“On the 2009 deployment, we were approached by an unidentified surface contact during night flights where we had to react,” said Jones. “My adrenaline was pumping and I was running on pure instinct. Nothing else mattered except protecting the ship and doing my job.”

According to Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW/AW) Gordon Jacobs, all weapons systems are critical to the protection of the ship and crew.

“It is the last line of defense,” said Jacobs. “Once something gets past the aircraft, the weapons systems and the machine guns are instrumental in protecting the ship.”

John C. Stennis weapons systems are a deterrent and protect against incoming threats, allowing Stennis to safely complete missions at home and abroad.