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Patrol Squadron (VP) 46 “Grey Knights”

Squadron History

Patrol Squadron 46 (VP-46) has the distinction of being the oldest American maritime patrol squadron, and the second oldest squadron in the entire United States Navy. The only squadron more senior is VFA-14, as their history is unbroken back to the establishment of the Air Detachment Pacific Fleet in September of 1919. T​raci​​ng a squadron’s lineage is a complicated matter. Only the uninterrupted operation of a squadron, from its establishment through any re-designations until its disestablishment, is recognized. If there is a break where a squadron is disestablished, and then reestablished at some later date, the squadron may continue the traditions of the old organization but cannot claim its history or lineage. VP-46 has maintained a continuous history back to the founding of Patrol Squadron 5S.​​

The Grey Knights’ history began with the establishment of VP-5S on 1 July 1931 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone. The squadron’s first year saw a re-designation to VP-5F, and a temporary home port change to NAS North Island, San Diego, CA. During this time, the squadron flew the PM-2 twin-engine biplane flying boat. This open-cockpit aircraft carried a crew of five, and boasted a range of 865 miles.​

​​​In June 1933, the squadron transitioned to its second aircraft, the P2Y-1, which offered several improvements over the PM-2. The P2Y-1 remained a twin engine biplane design, but incorporated more powerful engines. Besides being a significantly larger aircraft, the P2Y-1 also had just over twice the range of the PM-2. During this period the squadron continued to patrol the Caribbean and provide support to the fleet’s annual training exercises.​

​​On 18 May 1938, the squadron then known as VP-5 transitioned to arguably the most famous and recognizable seaplane ever built: the PBY Catalina. The PBY was larger and more capable than either of the previous aircraft. It carried a crew of 5 to 8 for a range of roughly twice that of the P2Y-1, and was more heavily armed. VP-5S was soon put to operational use as the newly re-designated Patrol Squadron 32 (VP-32). The outbreak of hostilities in Europe prompted President Roosevelt to declare the United States neutral, and all maritime patrol squadrons were tasked to perform neutrality patrols up and down the Atlantic coast.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, America, as well as the men of VP-32, were thrust into the Second World War. The squadron operated from advanced locations around the Caribbean, where their primary tasking transitioned to Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and convoy patrol. Throughout the first year of the war there was little contact with enemy submarines, resulting in only a few sightings.​

By the end of 1942, VP-32 began the transition to the PBM Mariner, incorporating many improvements over the PBY to include the introduction of radar. The transition to the PBM was completed by April 1943, just in time for the most productive two weeks that they experienced during the war. From 15 - 28 July 1943, VP-32 was successful in sinking three German U-boats (U-159, U-759, and U-359) south of Haiti.​

​​At the close of the Second World War, the squadron was re-designated to Medium Patrol Plane Squadron 6 (VP-MS-6) and changed its home port to NAS Alameda, CA.​ It was from this location that the squadron supported Cold War operations including various nuclear tests in Operation Sandstone. 1 September 1948 marked the squadron’s final re-designation to Patrol Squadron 46 (VP-46).​

​​​​From June to December of 1950, VP-46 reached another milestone, becoming the first seaplane squadron deployed to perform combat patrols in support of the Korean War. Throughout this deployment, squadron aircraft patrolled off the Chinese coast and  in the Formosa Straight. Before hostilities ended in 1953, VP-46 deployed twice more to the region. The Grey Knights conducted ASW patrols,  as  well  as  over-water search and reconnaissance missions throughout the waters east of the Korean Peninsula.​

P2V Neptune Aircraft Image

In 1961, VP-46 transitioned to the P2V Neptune. This marked the first time the Grey Knights operated a land based aircraft  in their history. This was a short-lived change, as the transition to the P-3A began only three  years later. VP-46 had the privilege of being the first west coast squadron to fly the P-3A Orion, the aircraft it has continued to fly in various versions to this day.​​

The Orion boasted a far more capable ASW suite and a much more spacious airframe than any of the previous aircraft flown. In conjunction with the aircraft transition, VP-46 also made a homeport change to NAS Moffett Field in the San Francisco Bay area. When hostilities erupted in Southeast Asia in the mid-1960s, VP-46 was again tasked to support. The squadron made its first deployment in support of the Vietnam conflict in 1965 to Naval Air Facility Naha, Japan. It was during this deployment that VP-46 provided around-the-clock surveillance of Vietnamese Coastal waters as part of Operation Market Time. The Grey Knights again returned to Naha two years later, but by 1968 the squadron also operated out of Adak, AK tracking Soviet submarines. The pressure that was applied by the P-3 navy to the Soviet ballistic missile submarines while they attempted, usually unsuccessfully, to patrol unseen off the coast of the US was a major contribution to Cold War defense. In 1970 and 1972, VP-46 again returned to the Vietnam conflict, based in the Philippines as well as MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.​

​The Cold War helped VP-46 perfect submarine tracking techniques.  In coordination with the Office of Naval Research, the VP community was able to use a network of seabed listening arrays, known as the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), to maintain constant vigilance against the Soviet fleet.  While working with SOSUS operators and US submarines, individual P-3 crews honed their skill to a level not previously attained.​

​At the close of the Cold War, VP-46 continued to maintain its primacy in ASW and answered a new call to perform overland Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and strike support. During Desert Storm the squadron was deployed to NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines, with detachments to Al Masirah in Oman. The Grey Knights were one of only a small number of patrol squadrons in the Arabian Peninsula and were among the last Maritime Patrol Squadrons to leave, on March 10th, 1991. With the closure of Moffett Field in 1993, the Grey Knights moved to their current homeport of NAS Whidbey Island(NASWI).​

​VP-46 returned to the Middle East again at the end of 2002 as vital contributors to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Grey Knights provided valuable intelligence to troops on the ground during ISR operations. On April 16, 2003, the Grey Knights had the distinct honor of being the first Navy aircraft to land in Baghdad. Throughout the remainder of the deployment, the Grey Knights continued to conduct armed patrols overland Iraq and supported Coalition soldiers on the ground.

​VP-46 celebrated its 75th Anniversary while deployed to the Western Pacific and the Middle East in July 2006. The squadron was spread across five different detachment sites, where all performed at a high operational tempo. In 2008, the Grey Knights returned to the Persian Gulf. Squadron personnel were deployed across two continents, while also augmenting deployed squadrons in the Pacific Theater. From the Horn of Africa, the Grey Knights conducted reconnaissance and patrol of the Gulf of Oman. From the Persian Gulf, the “Oldest and the Best” flew in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM.​

​The Grey Knights once again returned to the 5th Fleet AOR for their 2010 deployment. During this deployment, the squadron was split between two main sites, Al Udeid, Qatar and Shaikh Isa Air Base, Bahrain, while also augmenting squadrons deployed to the Pacific AOR. VP-46 was the first Navy squadron deployed to Isa since the Gulf War days, and helped transform an expeditionary site into a logistics and operations hub​

​During this deployment, the Grey Knights flew over 6500 hours between three sites in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM, ENDURING FREEDOM, and NEW DAWN. Over the course of the the Iraq conflict, VP-46 made history as the only P-3C squadron to be on station for both the beginning of 2003’s “Shock and Awe” campaign, as well as the end of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.​

In May of 2012, the Grey Knights took over Task Group 57.2 operating in the 5th Fleet AOR from bases in Bahrain and Qatar. During this deployment, VP-46 achieved an unparalleled 100% mission completion rate, safely performing 572 missions encompassing 5,246 flight hours in support of operational tasking. These exemplary accomplishments earned the Grey Knight Team the 2012 Battle “E”, Golden Wrench, and CNO Safety Awards.​​

The Grey Knights were selected to return to the 7th Fleet AOR for the first time in seven years to serve alongside the War Eagles of Patrol Squadron 16(VP-16) as part of the first ever bilateral MPRA deployment with a P-8A Squadron. VP-46 assumed Commander Task Group 72.4 in December 2013, showcasing cutting edge technology for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers for Anti-Submarine Warfare (C4ASW). The Grey Knights executed over 3,350 flight hours from 19 detachments throughout the 7th Fleet AOR, producing a 96% mission completion rate. The Grey Knights were the first DOD asset on scene to assist the Government of Malaysia with its search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 after the Boeing 777 disappeared in early March 2014.​​

VP-46 also reached a new milestone with our Pacific Fleet safety record, achieving 50 years and 335,000 hours of mishap-free flying. A critical component to this achievement is the Grey Knights’ stellar maintenance team, which won its second consecutive Golden Wrench Award in 2013. After returning home from deployment in July 2014, the Grey Knights were dispatched on detachment to NAS Kaneohe Bay, HI, and Elmendorf Air Force Base, AK in support of ongoing operations.​​

In 2015, the Grey Knights kept their tempo up across both a vigorous IDRC and a tri-site deployment in the 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet AORs. The squadron completed 100 percent of assigned flight hours, prepared and qualified 12 combat ready aircrews, and introduced Multi-static Active Coherent (MAC) tactics, software and sonobuoys to our aircrew cadre during their IDRC, and concluded the IDRC by completing a tri-site Operational Readiness Evaluation (ORE), planned deliberately to mirror operations of the upcoming deployment. During this deployment, VP-46 led the way as the first squadron to maintain responsibility of all world-wide Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) operational commitments.​​

Aircraft Cockpit Image

VP-46 started 2016 once again deployed across three AORs while additionally maintaining a detachment to Thailand to expand partner nation interoperability. Both deployed operational excellence and sustained tactical focus at home were both demonstrated by safely and effectively executing 636 sorties, 6,131 flight hours, and participation in exercise and training opportunities such as Valiant Shield 2016, HSMWSPAC DESIEX, ARDENT SENTRY, HSM WTI HAVOK, MAC OT supp​ort, USS NIMITZ C4 OT support, Makin Island ESG COMPTUEX, CPRW-10 MINEX, SOCAL ASWEXs and TORPEXs, RIMPAC 2016, and an OCONUS LSRS detachment.​​

As a testament to their sustained superior performance, VP-46 continued to build upon their tradition of excellence in safety, surpassing 52 years and over 345,000 Class A or B mishap-free flight hours, and earning the Navy Battle Efficiency Award for 2016.​

In April of 2017, VP-46 once again forward deployed, this time conducting a quad-site detachment across the 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet AORs. Main detachment sites included Qatar, Bahrain, Japan, Turkey, and Djibouti, where the Grey Knights provided critical Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), while also conducting Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and assisting in several time-critical Search and Rescue (SAR) missions. VP-46 also executed missions for Combined Joint Forces engaged in Operations RESTORE HOPE and INHERENT RESOLVE against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In doing so, the Grey Knights flew over 5,046 mishap-free hours across more than 650 sorties. Since returning home, the Grey Knights have kept up the tempo by participating in detachments to NAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, and NAS Fallon, ​Nevada in support of ongoing operations, as well as regular flight operations at home field. As a testament to the dedication and professionalism of the men and women behind the many successes of VP-46, the squadron received the 2017 CNAP Retention Excellence Award and earned a rare second consecutive Battle “E” for 2017.​

​​In 2018 VP-46 began the year with detachments to Kaneohe Bay Hawaii in support of CTF-32 Homeland Defense tasking. The rigorous IDRC the squadron completed in the early months of the year prepared the Grey Knights for another successful deployment to the 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet Area of Responsibilities.  Once again VP-46 was awarded the Battle Effectiveness Award on June 7, 2018, marking the second Battle “E” the Grey Knights had received in two years.  In September of 2018, VP-46 embarked on the squadron’s final P-3C Orion deployment.  Spread around the globe with main detachment sights in Bahrain, Japan, and Djibouti, the squadron valiantly completed missions in support of Operation RESTORING HOPE and OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE.  VP-46 proved its worth yet again by demonstrating proficiency in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), and by providing time critical assistance when called upon.​

Aircraft at sunset image

In the summer and fall of 2019, VP-46 transitioned yet again to a new aircraft, the squadron’s 12th air-frame in 87 years, the P-8A Poseidon.  After spending six months learning how to safely and effectively operate the new platform, the Grey Knights were deemed safe for flight by the FRS on November 1, 2019.  Today, the crews that pilot and man the airframe make the Poseidon the most versatile multi-mission aircraft in the world and the US navy’s foremost aerial Anti-Submarine Warfare platform.​​ 

In the Winter of 2020, VP-46 set out on its maiden P-8A deployment to the FIFTH and SIXTH Fleet AORs. The Squadron supported dynamic operations in the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) theaters in the execution of NATO exercises MAVI BALINA, DYNAMIC MANTA, SEA SHIELD, ARTIC BONE, and multiple classified operations. The Oldest and the Best flew over 4,600 hours and 625 sorties from Bahrain, Djibouti, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom in prosecution of multiple enemy submarines and ISR operations. During the global COVID-19 pandemic the Grey Knights expertly executed our mission at a moment’s notice with a 98.5% mission completion rate, boasting over 800 hours of active tracking of adversary submarines. After seven months and countless successful missions the Grey Knights returned home to Whidbey Island and quickly responded to support Home Land Defense operations from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii as part of Commander, Task Force 32. During their 11-month home cycle the squadron completed a medivac and two successful search and rescue missions while completing all requirements for their their Fleet Response Training Plan.

VP-46 has participated in every major US military conflict since the squadron's inception, and has constantly maintained the highest standards of service.  The many successes of VP-46 are a direct result of the outstanding contributions made each and every day by the men and women who execute every mission with historic pride and stoic professionalism. The Grey Knights of VP-46 continue to preserve their vaunted legacy by honoring the past, leading in the present, and forging the future, and in this spirit, the Squadron retains its favored moniker, "THE OLDEST AND THE BEST.”

Command photo

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