Naval Nuclear Operations - 2002-2003
On 10 December 2002 the Bush Administration issued a "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction." The strategy establishes a comprehensive approach to counter the growing threat from weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear, radiological, biological, and chemical weapons. The document restated the US position that it reserved the right to respond to the use of chemical or biological weapons by using nuclear weapons.
Sometime during the mid-to-late Fall 2002 the USS George Washington is believed to have received an unspecified quantity of nuclear weapons, specifically gravity bombs that would be used by the F/A-18. Sources indicate that the weapons were accompanied by a Marine security detachment of the type that would usually deploy during the Cold War to provide security for the nuclear weapons. The USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) Carrier Battle Group units were relieved of their duties in Operation Enduring Freedom by the USS George Washington (CVN 73) Carrier Battle Group 19 July 2002. In December 2002 the USS George Washington returned to Norfolk, VA.
It is not known which if any of the other aircraft carriers that remained in the region carried nuclear weapons during the Major Combat Operations phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On 02 February 2003 while conducting exercises in the Pacific in preparation for an upcoming deployment the USS Carl Vinson and elements of its battle group were ordered to deploy to the Western Pacific area, in and around the Sea of Japan as a substitute for the Kitty Hawk Battle Group which had been ordered to deploy to the Persian Gulf in support of the upcoming war on Iraq. Sometime shortly after receiving orders to deploy, multiple sources indicate that the Carl Vinson received nuclear ordnance from the USS Sacramento, the supply ship for the Carl Vinson Battle Group. Sources indicate that the weapons were gravity bombs that would be loaded onto F/A-18s. It is not clear when the Sacramento received originally received the weapons, though sources on board both vessels confirm that the weapons were transferred to the Vinson and that with the weapons went a security detachment tasked with protecting the weapons.
The Carl Vinson was in Pacific waters at the same time the United States had stationed additional attack aircraft in the region for possible operations against North Korea.
The F/A-18 had been certified to carry the B57 and the B61-3/-7/-10. The B57 is not currently in the active inventory though the B61 is.
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