Marsha Sills of the Advocate Acadiana Bureau Reports: Iraqi navy’s sailors train at Morgan City

For immediate release: Sep 25, 2010

Marsha Sills of the Advocate Acadiana Bureau Reports: Iraqi navy’s sailors train at Morgan City facility

September 25, 2010

MORGAN CITY — A 35-meter-long patrol boat cuts through the waters of the Khor Abdullah channel off the coast of Umm Qasr, Iraq.

An isolated thunderstorm darkens the horizon. The water grows choppier when the boat nears the storm clouds.

For now, the scene is just a simulated training exercise designed to acquaint sailors in the Iraqi navy with the equipment and technology on its new fleet of patrol boats manufactured by Swiftships  Shipbuilders of Morgan City.

The shipyard, about 18 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is also the headquarters for the sailors’ training.

Swiftships received an $181 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales for nine 35-meter (about 115 feet) patrol boats. The company also received a $23 million contract to provide the vessel training for the Iraqi navy.

Members of the media were invited to tour the training site Friday. While Iraqi naval officers and sailors were available for interviews, full names were not given. Military officials cited security reasons.

So far, 47 sailors completed the 90-day training in July and 43 sailors will complete training next month.

The simulations have been very accurate, Iraqi navy Lt. Al Jazaeri said.

He said it was an honor to be among the first trained “and to help the country get back on its feet again.”

Umm Qasr is the home port of the Iraqi navy and is located in the southernmost part of Iraq, near the mouth of the Khawr az-Zubayr channel that leads to the Persian Gulf.

The port has become the operating base for the United States training and advisory missions to prepare the Iraqi navy to assume full control of its waters by the end of 2011 as part of the Operation New Dawn.

The Iraqi navy provides protection for oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. The training mirrors the environment and scenarios the sailors may encounter back home, explained Chris Myers, project manager with VSD, the Virginia Beach company subcontracted to provide the training.

The simulations, combined with classroom instruction on the vessel’s systems, lead into a 32-hour training at-sea aboard the vessel on Louisiana waters.

“The goal is for them to walk on the boat and seamlessly take over the boat,” Myers said.

Models of the patrol vessel’s engine room, the communications stations, the mission control bridge, even gunnery stations are housed inside shipping containers.

On Friday, sailors in the firearms simulator called a Virtual Interactive Combat Environment took fire from three speed boats attempting to take over an oil platform.

Simulated rapid fire from an M-240 Bravo 7.62 mm machine gun and .50-caliber and AK-47 machine guns filled the training room.

The program also provides on-screen feedback to the defending shooter that alerts where and how severe the injury, such as “heavy head wound.” The program logs incoming and outgoing fire for instructors to pinpoint improvement areas.

The equipment on the new boats is more advanced than the Iraqi navy’s fleet, said Lt. Al Oufi.

Huda Zatout,  linguistic and cultural coordinator for VSD, translated for Oufi. The training is provided with the assistance of translators.

The first Swiftships patrol boat arrived in Umm Qasr earlier this week.

The company has a team in Iraq who will assist with the boat’s reactivation, said David Freeman, program manager with Swiftships.

The company has an option to build six more boats as part of a $75 million contract, he said.

Myers said the training simulators, housed in the shipping containers, will also be shipped to Iraq. He said it’s possible that at least three more groups may be trained at the Louisiana site.