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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 4, 2006

Carriers ready for war games

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The Navy will make a point of demonstrating its carrier strength in the Pacific this summer.

Three aircraft carriers will head to Guam for military exercises later this month. One will later take part in upcoming Rim of the Pacific war games off Hawai'i, and two carriers will train in the western Pacific in August, the Navy said.

Officials yesterday said the carriers Reagan, Lincoln and Kitty Hawk will participate in the Valiant Shield exercise from about June 19 to 23. The Reagan and Lincoln are expected to make port calls at Pearl Harbor.

The Guam exercise represents the largest gathering of flattops for an exercise in the Pacific in more than a decade, if not longer, officials said.

Cmdr. Mike Brown, a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman, said assembling three carriers and their supporting ships, submarines, supporting air wings and other air and land elements "demonstrate the U.S. military's ability to conduct robust joint command and control operations."

Guam is becoming a fast-response hub for the U.S. military in the Pacific, with a renewed bomber presence, three nuclear submarines and the possibility of more, and plans to move 8,000 Marines there from Okinawa, Japan, by 2014.

The Navy also wants to be able to dispatch more carriers on shorter notice as North Korea remains a threat and China builds up its military.

The San Diego-based USS Ronald Reagan and the nearly 6,000 sailors assigned to its strike group recently completed operations in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

The USS Abraham Lincoln, out of Washington state, recently left Sasebo, Japan. The Navy confirmed it will participate in Valiant Shield and Rim of the Pacific, or Rimpac, and the British Broadcasting Corp. reported the carrier also will take part in August training.

The Kitty Hawk is based in Japan.

Brown said Valiant Shield in Guam builds upon the annual Joint Air and Sea Exercises that have been held the past three years. The total force participating involves approximately 22,000 U.S. military personnel, 30 ships and 280 aircraft, he said.

For the war games, The Gen. George C. Kenney Headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base will have command and control of aircraft including B-1 and B-52 bombers, F-15 and F-16 fighters, and surveillance and tanker aircraft.

"The biggest thing that we'll be exercising is joint interoperability and joint control — being able to talk to each other in the air and on the ground," said Senior Master Sgt. Charles Ramey, who is with the Kenney headquarters.

The 2006 Rimpac exercise from June 26 through July 28 in waters off Hawai'i is expected to involve more than 40 ships, six submarines, 160 aircraft and almost 19,000 military personnel.

Forces from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, South Korea and Britain are expected to participate.

Anti-submarine warfare exercises and sonar use are prevalent during Rimpac, and the Navy plans to monitor more of the ocean around Hawai'i for sonar's possible adverse effects on marine mammals during the biennial exercise.

Responding to scientific evidence that sonar can disrupt, injure or kill whales, dolphins and other sea creatures, the Navy for the first time applied for a federal permit to "harass" marine mammals when it uses mid-frequency sonar in the war games.

A comment period ended May 24, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service has yet to issue a permit, officials said.

The Navy estimates there will be 33,331 incidents of sonar exposure to marine mammals —some animals affected more than once — resulting in behavioral disturbance during the naval exercise.

NOAA Fisheries said the cause of a stranding of up to 200 melon-headed whales off Kaua'i during Rimpac in 2004 may never be unequivocally determined, but sonar use is a "plausible, if not likely, contributing factor."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.