WEB SPECIAL - Attack on America


American and British naval forces have been the first to respond in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the USA that shook the world. A massive armada of warships is gathered in waters of the Middle East, including at least four US Navy Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) and a substantial Royal Navy Task Force .

Sailors abord the USNS Comfort gaze in horror at the place
where the World Trade Center used to stand.
(US Navy photo).

Special Operations-capable forces belonging to the US Marines, as well as UK Royal Marines commando units, are available close to the suspected refuge of the terrorists responsible for the Sept 11 atrocities - Afghanistan - and are expected to be involved the campaign against world terrorism.

The USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) carrying a combined total of around 300 warplanes are spearheading the coalition fleet. They include in their escort force cruise missile-armed nuclear attack submarines, destroyers and cruisers. US Marine Corps amphibious forces are deployed with the CBGs, including assult carrier USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and USS Bataan (LHD 5). The Kitty Hawk and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON)15 left from Yokosuka, Japan, under escort from the JDS Shirane (DDH143) and JDS Amagiri (DD154) while in Japanese territorial waters.

The Theodore Roosevelt left with her escorts from her home port of Norfolk, Virginia.

The Enterprise and Vinson were already in the Middle East.

HMS Illustrious leaving Portsmouth for the Middle East
(photo by Jonathan Eastland/AJAX);

The key striking elements of the Royal Navy are in the Gulf Region on the biggest deployment of British naval power since the Falklands War of 1982. The British task force is headed by the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (R06) while ashore there are substantial elements of the British Army and RAF. In total 35,000 British and Omani forces personnel have been involved in exercise Saif Sareea (Swift Sword) this month (Oct), with 24 British surface ships and two nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) making up the UK naval task force. The exercise was scheduled to take place long before the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA.

Rear Admiral James Burnell-Nugent, who is the UK’s Commander UK Maritime Forces (COMUKMARFOR), commands the British task force.

Not even during the Gulf War of 1991, did the UK send a carrier to the Gulf region. Nine units from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines - one of the UK’s key rapid reaction formations - are present, with support from Fleet Air Arm FA2 fighters and RAF GR7 strike jets embarked aboard HMS Illustrious. Heading the UK’s Amphibious Ready Group is the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12), with embarked FAA, Royal Marines, Army and RAF helicopters. The ARG includes the veteran assault ship HMS Fearless (L10) and the Landing Ships RFA Sir Bedivere (L3004), RFA Sir Tristram (L3505), RFA Sir Percivale (L3036) and RFA Sir Galahad (L3005). Saif Sareea is the finale of the Royal Navy’s Argonaut 01 deployment, which kicked off in August with the departure of the Mine Counter-Measures task group.

The ARG followed soon after, with the carrier task group being the last to leave, in early September. The RN escort force is composed of: The Type 22 frigate Cornwall (F99); Type 23 frigates Monmouth (F235) and Marlborough (F233); the Type 42 destroyers Southampton (D90) and Nottingham (D91). The two SSNs are the Swiftsure Class boat HMS Superb (S109) and the Trafalgar Class vessel HMS Trafalgar (S107), the latter being Tomahawk-equipped. Crucial support is being provided by the RFA supply ships Oakleaf (A111) Fort Rosalie (A385) and Fort Austin (A386).

As we went to press it was unclear what scale of naval forces would be offered by other NATO countries who had committed themselves to supporting the USA. It is highly likely that Australian and Canadian naval forces will be made available as those two countries already contribute warships to the enforcement of UN sanction against Iraq in the Gulf. The Australian government has extended the deployment of the frigate HMAS Anzac in the Gulf to releive the pressure on USN forces and may send another warship to join her.

The scale of participation in any offensive action by Gulf states is rather more difficult to assss. They may also perform holding operations in the northern Gulf to keep Iraq under watch, so releasing UK, US and other units for action elsewhere.

American warships around the world set sail within hours of the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. Off the east coast of the USA they assisted emergency services coping with the casualties and destruction, and elsewhere provided another layer of air defence against further attacks on the USA or stood by for action against the perpetrators. The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) embarked Navy medical personnel in New Jersey and sailed for New York. Comfort has a crew of more than 750 USN and civilian medical personnel and other specialists. She also contains 12 fully equipped operating rooms and a 1,000 bed hospital with the full range of facilities. Meanwhile the carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, and mounted air patrols with her embarked jets and prepared to send her helicopters in to New York to help airlift casualties to the Comfort. Other USN ships at sea off the east coast of America included: the cruisers USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), USS Monterey (CG 61), USS Hue City (CG 66), USS Vicksburg (CG 69) and USS Vella Gulf (CG 72); the destroyers USS Ramage (DDG 61) and USS Ross (DDG 71); the support ship USS Detroit (AOE 4); the assault carrier USS Bataan; and assault landing ship USS Shreveport (LPD 12). The Washington was being tasked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to provide air defense. Meanwhile the USA’s west coast and Hawaii were being defended by, among others: The carrier USS John Stennis (CVN 74); the cruisers USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and USS Valley Forge (CG 50); the destroyers USS Decatur (DDG 73), USS Stethem (DDG 63), USS Higgins (DDG 76), USS Russell (DDG 59) and USS Fife (DD 991); the frigates USS Rentz (FFG 46), USS Sides (FFG 14), USS Thatch (FFG 43), USS Ford (FFG 54), USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60); the support ships USS Salvor (ARS 52) and USNS Yukon (T-AO 202).

Pictured: The USS Winston S. Churchill in UK waters
shortly before the terrorist attack on the USA
(photo by Jonathan Eastland/AJAX);

In Europe USN warships were also at a high state of alert, with the Arleigh Burke Class destroyers USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) and the USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) at sea off the south coast of England. The Gonzalez was in port at Devonport, Plymouth, as part of Standing Naval Force Mediterranean and set sail within hours of the attacks. The Winston S. Churchill was already at sea, as she was conducting a series of combat training exercises with the Royal Navy’s Plymouth-based Operation Sea Training organisation. The powerful AEGIS combat systems of the two American destroyers provided additional protection for the UK and Europe’s air defences. They stayed in UK waters for a fortnight after the atacks, arriving at Clyd Submarine Base for a brief stop towards the end of September.

Meanwhile, as the crisis erupted, the results of the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General Manual (JAGMAN) investigation of the terrorist bombing of USS Cole (DDG 67) last October were revealed. Seventeen American sailors were killed and 42 others were injured while the ship was conducting a brief stop for fuel in Aden, Yemen.

Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Vern Clark, completed the JAGMAN and agreed with the findings of the Commander- in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Adm. Robert Natter, that the commanding officer of USS Cole, Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, acted reasonably in adjusting his force protection posture, based on his assessment of the situation that presented itself when the ship arrived in Aden to refuel. “I found Adm. Natter’s analysis to be both well reasoned and convincing,” Clark said, “and I therefore agreed with his determination that the facts do not warrant any punitive action against the commanding officer or other members of Cole’s crew.”

The JAGMAN pointed out several lessons learned from the Cole attack, including a need for additional training and equipment, as well as a heightened awareness of force protection that would enable ships to operate within a reasonable level of risk in a high-threat environment. Admiral Clark has also stressed the importance of having well- built ships, manned by well-trained crews as a key for survival either in conventional combat or against the asymmetrical threat of terrorism.

The Navy’s leadership also noted that the investigation underscored shortcomings throughout the network of commands, departments and agencies that provide support to USN ships operating in foreign waters around the globe.

AUSTRALIA decided to cancel its Centenary Naval Review following the attacks on America. Defence Minister Peter Reith said: "Acting on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, I have agreed that both the Royal Australian Air Force 80th Anniversary Amberley Air Show and the Centenary Naval Review are to be cancelled." He added: "The decision to cancel the Centenary Naval Review was taken in light of the Royal Australian Navy's involvement in existing operations and the potential for involvement in future operations. We currently have a major Naval commitment in the north of Australia assisting other federal agencies with the Government's initiatives for intercepting illegal immigrants. I understand that many people and businesses will be disappointed these events have been cancelled however the Government believes it is wise, in all the circumstances, to give precedence to operational requirements over ceremonial matters." The Amberley Air Show was to have been held at RAAF Amberley Ipswich, QLD, from Friday, the September 28 to Sunday the September 30. Substantial support for the RAAF 80th Anniversary Air Show was to have been provided by the United States military. The Centenary Navy Review was to be held on and around Sydney Harbour from Tuesday, October 2 to Monday, October 8.

• Some material provided by the US Department of Defense and Australian Defence Ministry.