Magazine article National Defense

Launching Flights around the Clock in the Persian Gulf

Magazine article National Defense

Launching Flights around the Clock in the Persian Gulf

Article excerpt

A board the USS Vinson--About to return home from the Persian Gulf, this Navy aircraft carrier has spent the last six months balancing two crucial missions: providing close-air support to U.S. ground troops in Iraq and trying to keep the waters safe from terrorists, said Capt. Kevin Donegan.

Donegan, the Vinson's skipper, describes the Persian Gulf as a "challenging environment, because the traffic density here is very high ... That is not only on the surface of the sea, it is in the air and all around."

The Vinson's goal has been "to keep the terrorists from using any of the Persian Gulf to operate as any kind of base," Donegan tells National Defense. "We provide airplanes over Iraq for as prolonged a period of time as we can throughout each day," he adds. "We integrate with the other air forces that are doing the same thing, so that the forces on the ground have those airplanes if they need them."

The Vinson is the lead ship of Carrier Strike Group Three, which includes the USS Antietam (CG-54), USS O'Kane (DDG-77), USS Mustin (DDG-89) and USS Camden (AOE-2).

Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 fighter jets operating from the Vinson are being used not only for ground support, but also to provide surveillance and monitoring. Other aircraft on board include electronic support and early warning systems, such as the E2-C Hawkeye and the EA-B Prowler. The aircraft are part of Carrier Air Wing 9.

The missions that the pilots fly in support of current operations in Iraq are unique and provide a different approach to using fighter jets, said Marine Capt. Ben Buerke, a member of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, based in Miramar, Calif.

"We spend a lot of time loitering," he said. Advanced targeting pods on the F/A-18s and aerial refueling allow pilots to stay on station for several hours. "It is not the most efficient way, but it is an effective way, because not only can we do reconnaissance, but we can also employ weapons within a few minutes' notice."

The F/A-18s are launched more for deterrence and show of force, said Marine Capt. Kelly Hinz, also with VMFA 323. "In Iraq, it is more or less a non-threatening environment. People are not shooting up at us. We do not have the enemy with anti-aircraft weapons or SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] so it becomes a very low threat close-air support scenario. …

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