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Reuters October 18, 2002

United States Sending Another Carrier to Gulf

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The aircraft carrier Constellation with 72 warplanes aboard will head for the Gulf on Nov. 2, the latest piece in a quiet U.S. buildup off Iraq, Navy officials said on Friday.

The 88,000-ton Constellation, based in San Diego, will be the third U.S. carrier in the region. It was sticking to a schedule worked out at least nine months ago, and not being accelerated due to the Iraqi crisis, the officials said.

Two other U.S. carrier battle groups -- the Abraham Lincoln and the George Washington -- are already in striking distance of Iraq. A fourth carrier, the Harry S. Truman, is to head out in early December from its homeport in Norfolk, Virginia.

A fifth, the San Diego-based Nimitz, could be deployed as early as late December and a sixth, the Yokosuka, Japan-based Kitty Hawk, also could be brought to bear quickly, said Patrick Garrett, who is tracking deployments for GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia-based research group.

Citing security concerns, a spokeswoman for the Navy's San Diego-based 3rd Fleet, Commander Jacqueline Yost, confirmed only that the Constellation battle group had begun final pre-deployment war games off the U.S. West Coast and would head out by year's end. The deployment date was first reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Constellation is due to relieve the Lincoln; the Truman to replace the Washington. But the carriers' normal six-month deployments could be extended to boost U.S. firepower off Iraq if ordered by commanders, Navy officials said.

"We no longer want to use the Gulf war method of buildup," Navy Rear Adm. Stanley Szemborski, deputy director of the Pentagon office overseeing U.S. military modernization, told a conference on national security on Thursday.

The Pentagon took more than six months to assemble its forces before launching the U.S.-led war that drove Iraqi invaders from Kuwait in 1991.

"We want our forces and our capabilities to be forward," Szemborski said at the conference sponsored by Tufts' University and the U.S. Marine Corps. "From this forward posture, we want our forces to be able to transition rapidly to an effects-based campaign in order to either swiftly defeat or decisively defeat."

DIFFERENT LEVELS OF SUCCESS

An "effects-based" campaign is jargon for precision-strike capabilities designed to take out targets while minimizing spillover to civilians. 'Decisively defeat' means to bring about a regime change. 'Swiftly defeat' stops short of occupying territory or doing away with an enemy government.

While Szemborski was speaking about a generic buildup, his remarks illustrated the thinking behind military preparations for fighting in Iraq if ordered to do so by President Bush.

"All this is to say there have been significant changes in the strategy and in the planning which will have real impact on the way we fight," he said.

In other recent movements, headquarters units of the Army's Heidelberg, Germany-based V Corps have been ordered to Kuwait along with a tank-killing AH-64 Apache unit and an aviation task force.

"Select forces" from the First Marine Expeditionary Force are also deploying to the region in support of the U.S. war on terror, said Marine Major Jeff Nyhart, a spokesman at Camp Pendleton, California.

The Marines will take part in a biennial exercise, dubbed Internal Look and run by the U.S. Central Command, which would coordinate any U.S. attack on Iraq.

The command-post exercise, to begin next month, will test communications and control among component commanders, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice, said a spokesman for the Tampa, Florida-based Central Command.

The Central Command has moved its deployable headquarters to Qatar. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters is in Bahrain. The Air Force has a command center at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

The Constellation is exercising with its escorts -- the cruisers Valley Forge and Bunker Hill; destroyers Kinkaid, Higgins and Milius; frigate Thach and the fast-attack submarine Columbia.

The Constellation's air wing includes F/A-18 Hornet and F-14 Tomcat fighters plus radar-jamming EA-6B Prowlers and SH-60 Foxtrot multi-mission helicopters.


Copyright 2002 Reuters News Service