'Post' reporter aboard US carrier: Pilots gear up for Iraq
The Jerusalem Post
March 11, 2003
Sailors who rarely, if ever, spend time on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt came up from the ship's cavernous bowels for a treat around 3 p.m. on Monday. F-14 and F-18 fighter-bombers were doing target practice.
Hundreds of heads turned toward the sun to catch a glimpse of each jet as it circled around the ship and dropped its concrete ordnance from the sky on a target being dragged behind the ship . The F-18s were more accurate on the whole.
But given that the "bombs" being employed were not linked to any of the navy's advanced precision-guidance systems, the practice went pretty well.
It seems it will not be long before the dozens of planes on board the Roosevelt
and its sister ship in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Harry S. Truman, will
start dropping real bombs on Iraq, the vast majority of them guided by satellite.
Many of the targets have been selected, and preliminary target lists have already been given to the air command on the Roosevelt.
Mobile Scud launchers in northwest Iraq are expected to be among the pilots' first targets. And the Roosevelt's pilots have been training intensively for the task. Back in January, off the coast of Puerto Rico, they rehearsed "time-sensitive strikes" and targeted make-believe blow-up targets. "We had a lot of focus on that," said one person who took part in the training.
The Roosevelt is ready for combat, should President George W. Bush give the go-ahead for war, said Rear Admiral John C. Harvey, who commands the Roosevelt battle group. The only thing left to do is to substitute real bombs for the fakes used in training.
"We are fully operationally now," Harvey told a handful of reporters in his spacious office Monday night.
On Tuesday morning, helicopters from the aircraft carrier are scheduled to lift fresh ordnance mostly 500- and 1,000-pound bombs from a supply ship on to the carrier. They will top the supply of thousands of explosives already in the ship's magazines.
Battle planners are still hoping that Turkey will permit pilots overflight
rights. That would cut the distance fighters pilots from the Roosevelt need
to go to hit their targets in northern Iraq. If Turkey does not agree, the ship
could be forced to relocate. Harvey said, however, while there may be some "minor
technical differences" should the ship deploy to another area, the planes
will be able to complete its missions from any point.
"We can strike deep over land," he said. Planes can go "hundreds of miles... Whatever kind of operational tasking we're given it can be executed."
I asked Harvey, given al-Qaida's threats to attack US naval craft, how concerned is he about the prospect of a terrorist attack on the ship. He became animated when he answered.
"It's something I think about every day. It's something I think about every hour of every day," he said. (The ship is protected by air and sea measures.) "We use a layered approach."
"I take nothing for granted," Harvey said. The bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen "was a dramatic example of what can happen."
I asked Harvey, an expert in nuclear propulsion, if a terrorist strike or missile strike on the ship could create a "dirty bomb." He reflected on the nature of the asymmetric threat posed by al-Qaida. He then rattled off the ship's characteristics thousands of tons of explosives, 3 million gallons of jet fuel, and two nuclear reactors.
"Of my 1,000 concerns today, [the possibility of a dirty bomb] is number 5,000," he said. A nuclear aircraft carrier, he said, is the "safest place in the world."