WAR ON TERROR SPECIAL
Within days of returning from a six-month deployment to the Middle East in late December, the USS George Washington (CVN 73) Carrier Battle Group (CBG) was put on stand-by to return to the crisis zone in the New Year.
Although United Nations arms inspectors were continuing their search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), hopes of a peaceful settlement were fading fast as 2002 ended.
The declaration documents provided by Iraq in mid-December appeared to be a massive miscalculation by the ruling regime, which had tried to bluff its way out of a tight corner by not owning up to any on-going WMD programmes. With the US and UK continuing to insist that Saddam is concealing WMDs, the only trigger needed for war to commence was obstruction of the UN arms inspectors.
The Iraqi regime's prime objective appeared to be providing the minimum amount of co-operation needed to enable the UN arms inspection process to delay military action indefinitely. However the USA, which considers the arms declaration documentation to have been a material breach of UN Resolution 1441, is not likely to wait much longer than late January or early February 2003 before setting a military campaign in motion.
By late December the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) CBG was about to enter the theatre of operations to join the USS Constellation (CV 64) CBG, while the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and her battle group were getting ready to return to the Gulf region following a stand-down over Christmas in Sydney.
Another CBG - possibly the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) or USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) - was allegedly also on stand-by to deploy, both carriers having just completed operational work-up. A US Marine Corps Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), carrying thousands of troops, together with their equipment, will reportedly accompany each CBG deployed and also aviation elements composed of helicopters and Harrier strike jets.
The Yokosuka-based USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) leads the USA's forward-deployed CBG, specifically tasked with reacting to emerging threats to American national security. However, due to the escalating crisis over North Korea's resurgent nuclear weapons programmes, the US Navy may wish to retain her in waters around Japan rather than order her to the Gulf.
Some 50,000 US military personnel were already in the Gulf by late December when the new stand-by orders were issued. In addition to CBGs and ARGs, the USA reportedly intends sending the 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), an ominous sign. The Comfort will initially be anchored at the British island territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which is a major airbase and naval facility.
Meanwhile the US Air Force has put five of its Stateside-based air wings on stand-by to fly to the Middle East. It is anticipated that the US Army will send elements of the Germany-based 1st Armoured Division and 1st Infantry Division in addition to, probably, the 101st Air Assault Division.
The US Marine Corps' 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) is expected to join forces with the UK's 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines (3CDO Bde RMs) for an amphibious landing to secure port facilities at the head of the Gulf. The 1st MEF's HQ element has already arrived in Kuwait to begin planning for such an operation. If ordered to the Gulf, the assault carrier HMS Ocean (L12) will head the UK's Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). The Ocean was completing work-up at Devonport as 2002 ended and had been seen loading up with equipment at the Marchwood military port near Southampton. A submersible vessel, capable of carrying additional landing craft to the Gulf, was said to have been chartered by the UK Ministry of Defence. One of the British fleet's new Ro-Ro auxiliary transports and an RFA Landing Ship Logistic were seen at Marchwood on the same December day that MoD officials admitted that specialist shipping was being chartered and put on stand-by to take heavy equipment, including Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), to the Gulf.
It is no secret that the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (R07) is due to deploy from Portsmouth this month (January) at the head of a task group. Originally bound for exercises in the Far East, Naval Task Group 03 (NTG 03) is now likely to divert to the Gulf where it will join US naval forces.
In late December some defence sources were claiming that Ark would deploy without her Sea Harrier fighters and Harrier GR7 strike jets, so that she could carry Royal Marines and their assault helicopters.
The Type 42 air-defence destroyer HMS Liverpool (D92) and Type 23 multi-role frigate HMS Marlborough (F233) are Ark's NTG 03 escort ships and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) supply vessels Fort Victoria (A387) and Orangeleaf (A110) are providing logistical support. At least one nuclear-powered attack submarine armed with Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) is acknowledged by UK Ministry of Defence officials to be with NTG 03.
As plans to send NTG 03 to loiter in, or near, the Gulf were being revealed, the Type 42 destroyer HMS Cardiff (D108) was already in the crisis zone. She was helping to enforce UN sanctions on Iraq, as part of a Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) that also included Australian and American warships. A mine warfare group composed of four Mine Counter-Measure Vessels (MCMVs), with the survey ship HMS Roebuck (H130) acting as their tasking HQ, has been in the Gulf since November.
It is significant that Rear Admiral David Snelson, UK Maritime Component Commander (UKMCC), who is forward based at US NAVCENT HQ in Bahrain, will command the RN's NTG 03. He is the second-in-command of all Allied naval forces engaged in the War on Terrorism.
While the majority of the world's media has been casting its spotlight on the Gulf, with action against Iraq looming, the USA has quietly been building up a new 'Coalition Against Terror' in the Horn of Africa.
Within a few weeks of the Al-Qaeda attack against a Kenyan hotel, and the terror organisation's simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in the same country, US Marines were on the scene.
Troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), carried by ships detached from the USS Nassau (LHA 4) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) were involved in bi-lateral exercises with the Kenyan military.
The presence of US Marines demonstrated to Al-Qaeda that its series of attacks against American targets, including the US Embassy three years ago, which have killed more Kenyans than anyone else, will serve only to unite Africa against it.
Further north, during a visit to the 24th MEU's new operational base of Djibouti, US Secretary of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld made it clear that new lines were being drawn in the sand.
"We need to be where the action is," said Secretary Rumsfeld. "And there is no question that this part of the world is an area where there is action."
While Secretary Rumsfeld was in Djibouti, at sea off the Horn of Africa the Spanish frigate Navarra (F85) was intercepting a rogue ship called the So San, which was found to be carrying Scud missiles that it was believed initially might be destined for unstable regimes.
The fact that the ship had come from North Korea, a state that poses a serious threat to world security via its production and sale of ballistic missiles and its pursuit of nuclear weapons programmes, provoked a strident response from the US politician. Mr Rumsfeld labelled North Korea "the greatest proliferator of missile technology in the world."
For articles on the US military build-up in the Horn of Africa and the So San interception see the Feb 2003 edition of WARSHIPS IFR
The Halifax Class frigate HMCS Montréal is the new flagship of the Canadian Naval Task Group (NTG), which is operating in and around the Arabian Sea as part of counter-terrorist operations. Not long after arriving on station off Arabia, the Montréal (336) intercepted a ship bound for Iraq. Also operating in the Middle East as part of the Canadian NTG is sister ship HMCS Winnipeg (338).
Canada's contribution to the anti-terror campaign is labelled Operation Apollo and Winnipeg is the eleventh Canadian warship to deploy under its auspices.
There are around 1,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air force personnel currently deployed on Op Apollo. Meanwhile the supply ship HMCS Protecteur has returned to Canada after a deployment in support of Op Apollo that lasted 186 days.
In the meantime a sign of the broadening coalition in the War on Terrorism has been the despatch of the Japanese AEGIS-equipped air-defence destroyer JDS Kirishima (DD174) to the Indian Ocean, where she is due to take over from JDS Hiei (DD142) as flagship of a Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) task group.
En-route to a joint exercise with vessels of the Indian Coast Guard, the Japanese Coast Guard ship JCG Yashima took part in an anti-hijack exercise in the Pacific. The exercise was staged in co-operation with the Japanese Shipowners'
Association and involved the mock hi-jacking of the tanker Kou-Ei. After the Yashima fired a warning shot across the tanker's bows, a helicopter landed a Special Search Team (SST), which enabled a rehearsal of how vessels might be sized back.
For more on the American-led War on Terrorism, buy the latest edition of WARSHIPS IFR magazine.