WAR ON TERROR SPECIAL
Should the Iraqi dictator defy the new United Nations weapons inspection regime, naval forces will spearhead an assault on Saddam Husseins regime in Iraq, in a plan nicknamed Desert Storm Lite. While the full range of capabilities will be unleashed, the emphasis, in a devastating first wave of attacks, will be on applying maximum pressure to key points using carrier-based strike jets, together with submarine and ship-launched cruise missiles. These will be followed up with a ground invasion that will make maximum use of US Army air assault formations and US Marine Corps amphibious troops backed up by the minimum amount of heavy armour.
Around 100,000 ground troops will be used, as against 500,000 employed to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991, hence the label Desert Storm Lite. The main objective of military action will be to destroy Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and remove Saddams regime. Because of difficulties with obtaining regional bases to launch action from, US naval air power and Marine Corps formations will inevitably spearhead the offensive. Only Kuwait and Qatar are thought to be on-side to provide bases for action against Iraq. Americas main, if not only, significant military partner is likely to be the UK. Only the Royal Navy has cruise missile-armed submarines, amphibious troops, Special Forces and carrier air power capable of working in close harmony with similar US forces. Britain is also the only nation with the political will to match capability, although others, such as Australia, may join in.
The Royal Navy's Fleet Flagship, HMS Royal returned from her second exercise in the Mediterranean in early November and, after a maintenance period in Portsmouth, is due to leave for a timely Far East deployment at the beginning of 2003. It is anticipated she will carry both Sea Harrier fighters and Harrier GR7 strike jets as well as Merlin patrol helicopters.
Already deployed to the Gulf is the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll (F231), together with a supply ship, conducting sanctions enforcement operations against Iraq. An RN Mine Counter-Measures group composed of four ships has been exercising with Saudi Arabian naval units and the survey vessel HMS Roebuck (H130), which could be expected to act as their tasking ship in the event of any war, sailed for a Middle East deployment in mid-November. At least one Britis nuclear-powered attack submarine armed with cruise missiles was said to have been deployed to the Middle East by November and three similarly-armed SSNs were also available. However, the grounding of one of them, HMS Trafalgar (S107), in early November, during an exercise off Scotland, threatened to restrict options, although she was not seriously damaged.
Eight hundred US Marines have deployed ashore in Djibouti from the assault carrier USS Nassau (LHA 4) and are participating in Exercise Image Nautilus with the armed forces of the east African nation. US Central Command chief, General Tommy Franks, stated during a media briefing: We said a long time ago that first of all, were going to rout the terrorists out of Afghanistan, get rid of the Taliban. We also said that there are going to be some friendly nations, and were going to want to work with them in order to help them help themselves get over the terrorist problem. And we also said it may be necessary from time to time to coerce others to get rid of their terrorist problem.
Meanwhile across the Bab Al Mandab, the narrow stretch of water that separates the Horn from Arabia, an alleged CIA-led operation employed an un-manned air vehicle, armed with Hellfire missiles, to blow up a car carrying an Al-Qaeda operative suspected of organising the October 2000 attack on the US Navy destroyer Cole in Aden Harbour. The elimination of the suspected Al-Qaeda leader and some of his associates came four weeks after a French oil tanker was badly holed off Aden in a kamikaze attack by terrorists in a small boat packed with explosives.
The Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force has since last year maintained significant forward-deployed forces in the Indian Ocean as part of the international naval armada involved in counter-terrorism operations. Today there are five JMSDF ships on station in the Indian Ocean but little more than a year ago such an event would have been thought impossible. Last September the Japanese Government did not have the necessary anti-terrorism act needed to give authority to a deployment of naval forces in support of American-led offensive operations against Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. Therefore the JMSDF assumed it would not be involved in deploying warships and that, as happened in the Gulf War a decade or so ago, once again one of the worlds leading naval powers would make no significant contribution during the main period of crisis. However, in November 2001 the Shirane Class destroyer JDS Kurama (DD 144) and two other ships were ordered to deploy, ostensibly to gather information.
Shortly after they sailed another three ships departed, following approval of the requisite anti-terror Act that allowed the JMSDF to get involved fully in Coalition operations. A pattern has now evolved with the JMSDF rotating its task group on a 4 - 6 month deployment cycle. It is customary to have a guided-missile destroyer, helicopter-capable destroyer, a destroyer and two replenishment ships on station. The replenishment ships have supplied warships from Allied navies, including the USN. In turn Japanese warships have taken on oil from British and American replenishment vessels. The Indian Ocean task group is truly making history, as it is the first time Japanese warships have been deployed on a war footing alongside British and American vessels since WW1.
According to spokesmen aboard the carrier USS Abaraham LIncoln, precision-guided weapons have been used by the Super Hornets to hit two Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems, and a command bunker, near Al Kut, approximately 100 miles south of Baghdad. It was the first combat mission for the new variant of the Hornet.
The Royal Australian Navy has been a prominent player in the Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) in the northern Gulf alongside the USA and UK. The Australian frigates HMAS Anzac (150) and HMAS Darwin (04) left for the Gulf at the end of October, part of an intensive cycle of deployments to the northern Gulf since September 2001. For HMAS Anzac it was the second deployment to the Gulf in 15 months. HMAS Anzac has replaced her sister ship HMAS Arunta (151) while Darwin replaced her sister, HMAS Melbourne (05).
Canadian naval forces are continuing to play an important role in counter-terrorist operations in the Arabian Sea. The frigate HMCS Montréal (336) has recently joined other ships from Canada in the region.