Military


Diego Garcia "Camp Justice" 7º20'S 72º25'E

Diego Garcia is a British territory mostly populated by the US military, the British colony that's been colonised by the Americans. Normally the island is home to about 1,700 military personnel and 1,500 civilian contractors. But only about 50 troops are British. The island is used jointly by the Navy and the Air Force. Though the Navy contingent is larger, the Air Force does the flying.

Diego Garcia is a narrow tropical jungle reef in the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 miles south of the southern India coast. Despite the tropical feel to the reef, this is no Margaritaville. It's more of a stationary aircraft carrier. Diego Garcia is exclusively a military reservation located on a small host country atoll in the Chagos Archipelago.

A tropical footprint-shaped island just 7 degrees south of the equator, Diego Garcia is heavily vegetated. The island covers 6,720 acres in area with a maximum height of 22 feet and an average elevation of four feet above sea level. The shoreline is about 40 miles long and the island encloses a lagoon 6.5 miles wide and 13 miles long.

Diego Garcia History

Diego Garcia was discovered by Portuguese explorers in the early 1500s. It is the largest of fifty-two islands which form the Chagos Archipelago, located in the heart of the Indian Ocean. The island's name is believed to have come from either the ship's captain or the navigator on that early voyage of discovery.

In 1965, with the formation of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), Diego Garcia was under the administrative control of the British government of the Seychelles. In 1976, the Seychelles gained independence from England and the BIOT became a self-administering territory under the East African Desk of the British Foreign Office. The Crown's representative on island, the British Representative (BRITREP), acts as both Justice of the Peace and Commanding Officer of the Royal Naval Party 1002.

In the 1960's, America's naval policy in the Indian Ocean had many ingredients. The foremost was to deter Russia from interrupting the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf countries to America and Europe. Politically, this entailed American support of Iran to counter Russian influence in Iraq. It entailed maintaining a naval presence in the Persian Gulf, and wherever possible, in the countries on the rim of the Indian Ocean, not only to secure the sea lines of communication which criss-crossed the Indian Ocean but also to inject military force from seaward when required. By 1968, the American Navy had effected the necessary adjustments in its global naval deployments.

In 1968, Britain announced its intention to withdraw from East of Suez by 1971 and generated debate on "the Vacuum in the Indian Ocean". Russia's naval presence in the Indian Ocean increased to keep pace with the American naval presence.

America felt that Russia was articulating anxiety to forestall American naval deployment. The Russians on the other hand, felt that the establishing of communication facilities in Diego Garcia and in Northwest Cape in Australia could be interpreted clearly as reflecting an intention to deploy submarines in the Indian Ocean whose ballistic missiles were targeted on Russia.

Fears of a naval vacuum in the Indian Ocean were soon overtaken by fears of the militarisation of the Indian Ocean. America neither denied nor acknowledged the deployment of submarine launched ballistic missiles. The Russian Navy started showing its flag in the Indian Ocean, partly to fill the naval vacuum, partly to counter the American Navy and partly to demonstrate to the littoral states that the Russian Navy was a force to contend with. Since Russia lacked naval bases in the Indian Ocean, an anchorage was developed off Socotra near the Gulf of Aden. Overall, there was a steady increase in the presence of American and Russian naval ships.

In 1969, American President Nixon's "Twin Pillar" strategy entrusted the security of the Persian Gulf region to the monarchies in Iran and Saudi Arabia. America started heavily arming both countries under the Nixon Doctrine. In 1970, the Russians became active in the Dhofar rebellion in Oman, which was a Persian Gulf choke-point. These moves towards militarisation of the Indian Ocean triggered countermoves to make the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace. And both these moves and countermoves had to take into account the overall American hyper-sensitivity regarding West Asian oil supplies.

Until 1971, Diego Garcia's main source of income was from the profitable copra oil plantation. At one time, copra oil from here and the other "Oil Islands" provided fine machine oil and fuel to light European lamps. During the roughly 170 years of plantation life, coconut harvests on Diego Garcia remained fairly constant, at about four million nuts annually. The plantation years ended with the arrival of the U.S. military construction.

On 23 January 1971, a nine man advance party from NMCB-40 landed on Diego Garcia to initiate a preliminary survey for beach landing areas. Fifty additional Seabees from Amphibious Construction Battalion Two landed on the island and marked underwater obstructions, installed temporary navigational aids and cleared beach areas for landing additional personnel and materials. On 20 March 1971, an additional party of 160 Seabees from NMCB-40 arrived. Construction for U.S. Naval Communication Facility Diego Garcia was started four days later by the Seabees from NMCB-1 and finished by NMCB-62. The Seabees also started construction of an interim runway - to support the Communication Facility.

In October and November of 1971, Detachment CHAGOS of NMCB 71 and the whole of NMCB 1 arrived, marking the beginning of large-scale construction. NMCB 1 built the transmitter and receiver buildings and placed the base course for the permanent runway and parking apron. In July 1972, NMCB 62 relieved NMCB-1 and took over the departing battalion's projects. On 25 December the first C-141J transport landed on the newly completed 6,000 foot runway with the Bob Hope Christmas Troupe.

During December 1972, a Pre-commissioning Detachment arrived to prepare the Naval Communication Station for operations. On 20 March, 1973 U.S. Naval Communication Station, Diego Garcia was commissioned. The setting was sparse, but communications have been "UP" ever since. The communications facility was later changed to Naval Computer and Telecommunication Station (NCTS) in October of 1991.

Work commenced on the second construction increment, a $6.1 million project which involved the construction of a ship channel and turning basin in the lagoon. This project, however, was contracted to a Taiwanese firm. Seabees continued to work on support and personnel facilities in the cantonment area at the northern tip of the atoll. The second major area of construction was the airfield and its supporting facilities. Revised requirements called for the extension of the original 8,000-foot runway to 12,000 feet and additions were made to the parking apron and taxiways. New hangars and other support facilities were also built. During 1973 and 1974, Seabee units worked on all these projects. Because the final mission of Diego Garcia was still evolving, it was clear that still more construction would take place in the years to come.

In 1975 and 1976, Congress authorized $28.6 million to expand the Diego Garcia facilities to provide minimal logistics support for U.S. task groups operating in the Indian Ocean. Additional projects were undertaken in 1978. World events in 1979 and 1980, however, forced a reevaluation of the U.S. defense posture in the Indian Ocean area which indicated the need for pre-positioned materials to support a rapid deployment force and a more active U.S. presence in the area. It was decided to further expand the facilities at Diego Garcia in order to provide support for several pre-positioned ships, loaded with critical supplies. By the end of 1980 the Naval Facilities Engineering Command had advertised a $100 million contract for initial dredging at Diego Garcia to expand the berthing facilities.

Thus, what began as simply a communication station on a remote atoll became a major fleet and U.S. armed forces support base by the 1980s. By 1983 the only Seabee unit remaining on Diego Garcia was a detachment of NMCB 62. The work the Seabees completed on Diego Garcia since 1971 represented the largest peacetime construction effort in their history. Diego Garcia was the major Seabee construction effort of the 1970s and they acquitted themselves well under the difficult and isolated conditions that exist here. When the Seabees arrived they lived in tent camps, when they departed they left a fully-developed, modern military facility, capable of supporting thousands of U.S. personnel.

Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia was established 1 October 1977, after six years as a Navy communications station. Known as the "Footprint of Freedom," it plays a primary role in support of U.S. military units operating in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf. Diego Garcia is a British Indian Ocean Territory. The island's only occupants are NSF personnel and tenants. Most of the approximately 3,500 people are third country nationals working under the large base operating support (BOS) contract. In addition to a regularly deployed VP squadron, major activities include a Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station, maritime prepositioning ships anchored in the lagoon, Military Sealift Command, and COMPSRON TWO (which controls the MSC ships). The Air Force and Army also maintain support elements on the island.

A major change to the island organizational structure occurred with the establishment of the Navy Support Facility (NSF) on October 1, 1977. Commanding Officer, NSF, assumed all duties and responsibilities previously assigned to the Island Commander. The nucleus for NSF came from the original Communication Station enlisted and officer allowances. All billets, other than those dedicated to communications support, were transferred to CO, NSF, who is responsible for maintaining and operating facilities and providing services and materials in support of several tenant shore activities and units of the operating forces. Following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, Diego Garcia saw the most dramatic build-up of any location since the Vietnam War era. In 1986, Diego Garcia became fully operational with the completion of a $500 million construction program.

The 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait marked the most intense operational period in Diego Garcia's history. From 1 August 1990 to 28 February 1991, NAVSUPPFAC Diego Garcia achieved and maintained the highest degree of operational readiness and provided levels of support which outstripped all contingency planning. As the base population doubled almost overnight, with the deployment of a Strategic Air Command Bombardment Wing and other aviation detachments, workload base-wide increased from 300-2000% over peacetime levels with no personnel augmentation. Diego Garcia became the only US Navy base that launched offensive air operations during Operation Desert Storm and Diego Garcia remains a vital link in the US defense structure.

Det 1, 13th Air Force, is responsible for operating and maintaining a Southwest Asia contingency base on Diego Garcia in support of CINCCENTCOM OPLANs. Provides facilities, munitions, vehicles, Aerospace Ground Equipment, supplies and aviation fuel to sustain deployed bomber and tanker sortie operations.

The 36th Civil Engineer Squadron sent a 24-person Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force detachment to Naval Support Facility, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territories, in June 2000. The team left Andersen seven weeks ago to complete some construction work as part of the Air Force's Bomber Forward Operating Location initiative. Members from Pacific Air Forces Headquarters and 36th CES identified five requirements for the team, including: constructing a land mobile radio repeater facility, constructing supply and maintenance secure storage rooms, repairing tent city electrical system, constructing a generator pad and testing grounding points on the south ramp.

The mission of putting bombs on target almost 4,000 miles away in Afghanistan is comparable to flying from Chicago to Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Success falls on the backs of bomber and aerial refueling aircraft that commute together from the tropics to Afghanistan. Coalition aircraft at Diego Garcia dropped more ordnance on Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan than any other unit during the war on terror.

Force members live in tents, which cyclones occasionally threaten to throw into the sea - or on a merchant ship that leaves residents with sea legs once they get back on shore.

The B-2 Shelters

In mid-September 2002 it was reported that the US had requested permission to build special shelters for four to six B-2 bombers at Diego Garcia. The portable climate-controlled shelters take about a month to erect. According to American Spaceframe Fabricators, the contractor that designed and constructed the B-2 Shelter System, two shelters had been constructed by late November and two additional structures would not be completed until June 2003 due to lack of existing concrete foundation.

The Island

As the United Kingdom owns the island, there are British Representatives on Diego Garcia, responsible for law and order on the island. The British Representative, or BritRep, acts as the Commanding Officer for Naval Party 1002, as well as the local magistrate and judge for all legal matters dealing with British law. Under his cognizance are the British customs personnel, Royal Overseas Police Officers (ROPOs) and a compliment of Royal Marines, who patrol and protect the entire BIOT.

Probably the place's prickliest subject is the issue of the 1,200 to 2,000 members of the Ilois, former inhabitants the British moved off the island in the late 1960s. They now live 1,200 miles away on the isle of Mauritus. As the descendants of workers who arrived on the island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they had lived there for several generations. But U.S. and British government texts refer to them merely as temporary workers, not indigenous inhabitants. Before those colonial workers, apparently no one ever settled there. The U.S. lease expires in 2016, and the Ilois are making plans return to turn the place into a sugarcane and fishing enterprise.

Just getting to the site is a challenge in itself - the sandy ridge has no other land within 1,000 miles with India to the north, Madagascar to the west, Indonesia to the east and nothing but Antarctica way to the south. The only way in and out is through government ships or planes.

Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) formed in 1965 from territory belonging formerly to Mauritius and the Seychelles. The island is one of 52 in the Chagos Archipelago, which extends over an area of 10,000 square miles. The archipelago is located in the heart of the Indian Ocean, south of India and between Africa and Indonesia. The tropical island is a narrow coral atoll with a land area of about eleven square miles, nearly enclosing a lagoon. Its configuration is that of a "V" drawn by a shaky hand. The island stretches 37 miles from tip to tip, with an opening to the north-northwest. Three small islands dot the mouth of the lagoon which is approximately 13 miles long and up to 6 miles wide. The lagoon is from sixty to one hundred feet deep with numerous coral heads in most areas. Shallow reefs surround the island on the ocean side, as well as in the lagoon. The island's mean height above sea level is 4 feet.

Diego Garcia is the largest of many atolls that form the Chagos Archipelago. The horseshoe- shaped atoll is located seven degrees south of the equator in the North Central Region of the Indian Ocean. It is heavily vegetated, has a land area of 6,720 acres and is 37 miles long, tip- to-tip. The maximum elevation is 22 feet, with an average elevation of four feet above sea level. The enclosed lagoon is approximately seven miles wide and thirteen miles long. The three small islands at the mouth of the lagoon and the shape of the atoll give the impression of a footprint, hence the term "Footprint of Freedom".

Annual rainfall averages 102 inches with the heaviest precipitation occurring during October to February. Humidity remains high throughout the year and temperatures are generally in the upper-80's Fahrenheit by day, falling to the mid-70's by night. The almost constant breezes keep conditions reasonably comfortable.

The atoll has been used primarily for the harvesting of coconuts from which coconut oil and copra were processed. It has also been a coal station and guano mining was carried out for a brief period.

Britain granted independence in the 1950s and 1960s to many of its former colonies in the Indian Ocean. The remaining islands were joined under the title of the British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT), Diego Garcia being one of these islands. The British and United States Government agreements allowed the US access to part of the island to construct a communication station and subsequently a Naval Support Facility. The British do not charge the US any rent.

Diego Garcia is an unaccompanied tour area; concurrent travel of dependents is not authorized. Furnished BOQ is available upon arrival. Medical and dental facilities may be inadequate and may require treatment at distant locations. Since the BOQ is fully furnished, shipment of household goods into Diego Garcia is limited to one thousand pounds of personal items. Appliances, television, bed, and furniture is provided. EML is available to Singapore. Military flights are the only authorized flights in and out of Diego Garcia to Singapore. Commercial and military flights are available from Singapore. Facilities include a gymnasium, clubs, galley, Ship's Store, library, Post Office, Navy Federal Credit Union, Community Bank, and chapel.

This spectacular location east of equatorial Africa -- where a 30-minute bus tour can show you the entire location -- holds elements of an adventure vacationer's dream. There's tropical windsurfing and fishing for 200-pound marlin. While it's no Pebble Beach, playing the 9-hole golf course is free -- and a hoot to do with no shoes on. And the sea is so warm, snorklers can wade in and play tourist with thousands of brilliantly colored tropical fish.

Diego Garcia, the southernmost island in the Chagos Archipelago and a part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, is centrally located in the Indian Ocean. It is a narrow atoll 39 miles long that nearly encloses a lagoon 13 miles long and up to 6 miles wide. Depths in the lagoon range from 60 to 100 ft; numerous coral heads extend toward the surface and form hazards to navigation. Shallow reefs surround the island on the ocean side as well as within the lagoon. The new channel and anchorage area are dredged to 45 feet (mean low water springs), and the old turning basin can also be used if depth is sufficient for ship type.

Diego Garcia is not a typhoon haven. The surrounding topography is low and does not provide an extensive wind break. Expected winds of 60 kt or greater justify a sortie to the north of all ships in the lagoon. With expected winds around 35-40 kt, sortie is not recommended. Small harbor craft can be moored at existing pier structures and larger ships can be anchored in the lee anchorage. In the past 30 years, the island has not been seriously affected by a severe tropical cyclone even though it is threatened about once a year. The maximum sustained wind associated with a tropical cyclone in the past 30 years at Diego Garcia has been approximately 40 kt.



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