WEB SPECIAL - Battleground Afghanistan


By WARSHIPS IFR Special Correspondents

The British fleet flagship HMS Invincible

The British fleet flagship HMS Invincible, which is leading the MARSTRIKE 05 deployment to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. She is pictured here during a late 2004 deployment to the Med. Photo: Neill Rush.

Breaking News: Marstrike 05 Deployment For RN

As the situation in Iraq grew ever more unstable as the date for national elections approached, the British decided to deploy their first major naval task group to the region since the Iraq War of 2003.

The fleet flagship HMS Invincible, which last entered the Gulf in the late 1990s to launch Sea Harrier FA2s on No Fly Zone enforcement missions, is leading MARSTRIKE 05 over the next three months.

A UK Ministry of Defence spokesman told WARSHIPS IFR; "MARSTRIKE's main objective is to develop the operational capability of the participating units, in particular HMS Invincible's strike role conducted with her Tailored Air Group. The major focus of the deployment will be Exercise Magic Carpet, a joint and combined exercise based on Oman, with participation by the Omani, US and French forces."

The TAG carried by Invincible for MARSTRIKE 05 will vary throughout the deployment, but will include FA2 Sea Harriers, from 801 Naval Air Squadron and Harrier GR7 strike jets from the RAF's No.4 Squadron, as well as Sea King Mk7 ASAC and Merlin maritime patrol helicopters.

The Invincible is flying the flag of Rear Admiral Charles Style, who is the current Commander UK Maritime Forces (COMUKMARFOR), one of two deployable two star officers in the RN. The rest of the UK group is made up of the Type 23 frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Grafton plus the Type 42 destroyer HMS Nottingham, the latter on her first front line deployment since the completion of major repairs last year. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship RFA Fort George is providing replenishment-at-sea.

To French Navy is contributing the frigate Guepratte, as part of an on-going integration programme between the two fleets which last year saw HMS Gloucester deploying 'east of Suez' as part of a task group centred on the Charles de Gaulle.

"MARSTRIKE 05 provides a platform for a whole series of long-planned exercises," explained the UK MoD spokesman. "It is designed to demonstrate Britain's ability to deploy, operate and sustain a maritime strike force and to reinforce the Government's commitment to the stability and security of the Mediterranean and Gulf regions."

• For more on MARSTRIKE 05 buy the March edition of WARSHIPS IFR.

The Truman Show

The USS Harry S. Truman

The USS Harry S. Truman heads south towards the Gulf danger zone, where she took over from the John F. Kennedy in late 2004. Photo: Paul Farley/US Navy.

The USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Carrier Strike Group relieved the USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) Carrier Strike Group in the Gulf, following a vertical ammunition replenishment and official turnover. After a full summer of training, Truman was ready to heed the nation's call for her second deployment in support of the global War on Terror. The strike group deployed on October 13 2004, under the command of Rear Admiral Michael C. Tracy, commander, Carrier Strike Group 10.

"I think the ship has trained hard," said Truman Commanding Officer Captain James P. Gigliotti. Truman's crew previously proved their skill and resilience, during nearly 1,300 combat sorties from the Mediterranean during the Iraq War in 2003.

On her return to the Gulf, the Truman's Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 stood ready to provide an eye in the sky for Coalition forces in Iraq, should they require tactical air support. "Our most important customers are the men and women on the ground in Iraq, and the people of Iraq," said Captain Pat Rainey, commander of CVW-3. "We're very sensitive to what the men and women are going through on the ground. While being out here for six months may seem like a long time to us, they're here for a year plus." As a key participant in the US Navy's Fleet Response Plan (FRP), the Truman has come full circle since her last six-month excursion, in 2003, namely a period in the shipyard, workups and now deployment again. On her way to the Gulf Truman took part in various exercises with allied fleets to hone her skills, including a Joint Maritime Course off the coast of the UK. See WARSHIPS IFR Jan 2005.

"We trained quickly, got ready quickly, the months have flown by, and we're on station here doing our thing, just what FRP envisioned," said Captain Gigliotti.

The Truman's CSG also includes: USS Barry (DDG 52), USS Mason (DDG 87), USS Monterey (CG 61), USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8), and USS Albuquerque (SSN 706).

Meanwhile, ships and squadrons of the John F. Kennedy CSG were returning to their respective homeports of Mayport, Fla., and Norfolk, Va. During its deployment, ships and aircraft from the JFK CSG safely launched 6,054 sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Sailors from the CSG also rescued six Iranian mariners in the Gulf just before their cargo dhow sank, then provided food and clothing and repatriated them to an Iranian vessel.

The CSG coordinated the search and recovery of the remains of a US citizen adrift in a sailboat in the North Atlantic, repatriating the remains to the USA. Aircraft from CVW-17 embarked aboard John F. Kennedy played a key role in supporting Coalition ground forces during combat operations in Fallujah. As Coalition forces swept through the city clearing it of insurgents, the JFK's jets joined Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft in striking key enemy positions. At the height of operations, the carrier's aircraft flew an average of 38 missions a day in support of ground troops.

• Report based on material provided by the US Navy.

Pakistan Steps Up To The Plate

The Pakistan Navy destroyer PNS Babur

The Pakistan Navy destroyer PNS Babur in the Gulf Photo: Journalist 2nd Class Elton Shaw/ US Navy.

As part of a Pakistan's closer involvement in the War on Terrorism, the PNS Babur has been conducting operations with the American destroyer USS The Sullivans and French frigate FS Surcouf in the Gulf of Oman.

The Babur took part in Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIOPS) intended to disrupt the passage of terrorists and their materials by sea. Pakistan's participation came within the framework of a Coalition Maritime Campaign Plan (CMCP) executed by Commander Task Force 150.

"Coalition forces, which include major navies of the world, are working to prevent terrorist attacks against vital maritime infrastructures in the region," explained Captain Asif Khaliq TI, Commanding Officer of the Babur. "Pakistan, being an important regional country, considers itself responsible for contributing toward peace, safety and stability in the region; which in turn will ensure uninterrupted economic activities in the region, which is mainly dependent upon the maritime sector."

Commander Stephen Lorentzen, US 5th Fleet surface operations officer observed:"We could not do what we need to do here in support of the global war on terror without the help of Coalition forces." TF 150 Commanding Officer Commodore Tom Cunningham RN said that he felt the Pakistani Navy, as well as other regional fleets, obviously had a lot of insider knowledge.

"They speak the languages here and they understand the environment," said Commodore Cunningham. "So as well as operating a ship, when we want advice on the region we can turn to the Pakistani vessel and they can advise us on regional customs and movements of traffic. They basically give us our core expertise. Also, because we are operating in support of international law, they have legal powers that most of us do not have in the region. Part of our task over here, is, of course, the enforcement of international law and international resolutions," added Cdre Cunningham. "Therefore, international maintenance adds credibility to our mission. It also offers the opportunity for us to benefit from different nations' specialists, connections in the region, and their knowledge on the region."

With the help of its Special Service Group (SSG), Pakistani Navy ships have been committed to carrying out maritime interception operations in the region since April.

"Our job is to board vessels and ensure all passengers are listed in the crew manifest," said Lieutenant Jawad Haider Khawaja, Babur's boarding officer. "We assure vessels we are there to protect and help them, but they must be in compliance with the laws of the seas. Ninety-nine percent of the time we board a vessel we have no problems. But every once in a while we catch a bad guy. And that's why we are there."

Another important aspect of the CMCP is to check and interrupt the drugs, arms and human trafficking, which is an equal menace in the region. "Pakistani participation in the CMCP is not aimed against any particular country or countries," said Captain Khaliq. "It is rather aimed against those who are common enemies of peace and safety to ourselves and brethren in the region."

• Story based on material provided by the US Navy.

Ran Gulf Ships Swap

HMAS Adelaide

HMAS Adelaide patrols the waters of the northern Gulf. Photo by Corporal (CPL) Neil Ruskin/Defence (Australia).

The Australian frigate HMAS Darwin is due to replace HMAS Adelaide on station in the Gulf this month (Jan) as part of Australia's on-going contribution to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq.

Sister ship HMAS Adelaide had been on patrol in the Gulf since August last year, contributing to the security of Iraqi territorial waters and off-shore oil platforms and also trying to prevent smuggling into and out of Iraq.

Her relief by Darwin represents the tenth rotation of Royal Australian Navy ships as part of Coalition operations following an initial deployment in 2001. HMAS Darwin has previously deployed to the Gulf on four occasions, most recently between November 2002 and April 2003.

The Australian Defence Force continues to provide significant assistance to Coalition operations, including the recent equipping and training of 158 members of the Republic of Fiji Military Force, in support of the United Nations in Iraq.

• Story based on material provided by Defence (Australia).