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The Honolulu Advertiser November 4, 2002

Pearl Harbor ships to join armada in Persian Gulf

By William Cole Advertiser Military Writer

At least seven of Pearl Harbor's 30 home-based ships and subs are - or soon will be - part of an armada the U.S. Navy is massing in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.

The aircraft carrier USS Constellation battle group left San Diego on Saturday to join the build-up of forces.

Patrick Garrett, a military analyst for Virginia-based Global Security.Org, said he expects that four, and possibly five, carriers will be stationed in the Gulf region in December or January for a possible start of war with Iraq.

Garrett said the carrier group may fall just short of the six-carrier presence put in place for the first Gulf War.

"I think the indicators for a long time have been that it's not, 'Should we go to war with Iraq?' but 'When are we going to war with Iraq?' " Garrett said. "With the increased tonnage - just the sheer number of ships that are out at one time and converging on one area - I think it's a serious indicator that war is going to occur sooner rather than later."

On Oct. 24, Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England visited the San Diego-based amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa and repeated the oft-heard Operation Enduring Freedom advice of "be prepared" to the 2,000 sailors and Marines during an all-hands call.

The Tarawa is expected to leave in coming months for the Gulf region, where 2,100 Camp Pendleton Marines already are deployed with the USS Belleau Wood Amphibious Readiness Group.

Carrier training and deployment schedules are determined years in advance, and Ensign David Luckett, a spokesman for the Navy's Office of Information in Washington, said the aircraft carriers deployed and the ones preparing to leave port in the near future are on "routine deployments."

But those schedules can be altered to meet the Navy's needs, as in the case of the Constellation, which last week left port earlier than planned after returning in September 2001 from a previous Persian Gulf deployment.

There are no aircraft carriers with home port in Hawai'i.

Normally, a carrier deploys for six months and then is in training and undergoing maintenance or upgrades for the next 18 months. The Constellation had more than four months remaining in that cycle.

More than 8,000 Pacific Fleet sailors are deploying with the Constellation and its escorts, which include the Hawai'i-based attack submarine Columbia, as well as two cruisers, two destroyers, a frigate and support ship from elsewhere in the fleet.

The Constellation, with approximately 75 combat and support aircraft, is heading to the North Arabian sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Navy said.

The carrier Abraham Lincoln, meanwhile, which left Everett, Wash., in July and arrived in the Arabian Sea in September, has as part of its battle group four Pearl Harbor-based surface ships: destroyers Fletcher and Paul Hamilton; frigate Reuben James; and attack submarine Honolulu.

The carriers Constellation and Harry S. Truman were expected to take over in December for the Lincoln and the George Washington, which is in the Mediterranean Sea.

But both the Lincoln and George Washington could be kept on deployment in the event of war with Iraq.

"There is the possibility the Lincoln could come home because she's due back in port sometime in January," Garrett said. "But I haven't heard anybody talking about her going home on schedule."

Garrett said a likely scenario calls for the use of the Lincoln, Truman and Constellation for strike operations. The Japan-based carrier Kitty Hawk, which got under way Oct. 25 for an "at sea" period and training with Carrier Air Wing 5 embarked, could be deployed quickly to the Gulf region, Garrett said.

The carrier USS Nimitz out of San Diego and its battle group, meanwhile, are scheduled to deploy early next year, but that could be moved up. The Pearl Harbor-based guided missile cruiser Chosin and attack submarine Pasadena are part of the battle group.

Submarines normally lead the way for a battle group, but Pacific Fleet submarines also operate independently of the warships in the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet and Western Pacific 7th Fleet areas of responsibility, said Cmdr. Kelly Merrell, spokeswoman for the Pacific Fleet submarine force.

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