- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

Navy supremacy

The Air Force and Army may think otherwise, but in the opinion of one senior Navy admiral it is carrier aviation that is key to victory in Afghanistan.

"Clearly," Vice Adm. John Nathman writes in an internal message to commanders, "we have been America's main battery in this war and because of our strength and guts we are winning."

Adm. Nathman commands Navy air forces in the Pacific and has a big say in how all Navy aviators are trained. Two of his carriers, the Kitty Hawk and Carl Vinson, are mounting air strikes on the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And the USS John Stennis left San Diego 21/2 months earlier than originally scheduled to join the armada later this year.

"Because it is our duty, the Navy, its fleet and flattops, will stay until this violent and lethal war is won," the admiral wrote in his Nov. 26 message titled "Fly, Fight, Lead."

The four military services have worked remarkably well together since the campaign began Oct. 7. But Navy officers tell us Adm. Nathman is expressing in a message what some don't dare say in "mixed" Pentagon company: that carriers are showing their full worth off the coast of Afghanistan, delivering the bulk of tactical strikes while the Air Force still searches for a nearby land base.

Some Air Force brass have preached for years that the Pentagon can cut Army troops and Navy carriers in favor of air power. Afghanistan, say carrier advocates, proves otherwise.

Cmdr. Jack Papp, Adm. Nathman's spokesman, said the message is the admiral's "assessment of where we as a naval aviation force has been, where we are today and his vision for where we are headed. He wanted to recognize the superb job our naval aviation force is doing and the important role they are playing in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan."

Indeed, Adm. Nathman's message is part pep talk, part status report. "We have made incredible progress in flight training in the last three years from a system that was almost broken to one that is whole," he writes.

The admiral credits a program called "Naval Aviation Production Process" that reduced the time it takes to convert a civilian into a carrier aviator the "street-to-fleet" transformation.

Naval aviation has suffered from shortages of munitions, equipment and flying hours. The Navy inspector general issued a blistering report that said non-deployed air units were in particularly bad shape.

Adm. Nathman sees improvements. "Our deployed readiness is good and our efforts in this war reflect it," he said. "Our non-deployed readiness is not as good as it could be."

Still, he wrote, "We have significant manning challenges in naval aviation If we are to improve our opportunities, we must reduce this challenge.

"We have seen much improved retention of our enlisted men and women and many of our aviators have been pulling their resignation and retirement letters," he added.

A naval aviator told us he was struck by several of the admiral's points. Said the aviator, "We have embarked on a long war that, at this stage, is being waged primarily by carrier-based Navy. It's probably safe to assume that wherever phase two takes us, the Navy will continue to bear the lion's share. None of this will be easy because deployments are likely to be longer and more often for some unknown period of time."

Who's the 911 force?

The U.S. Marine Corps was upset by a speech given at Fort Bragg, N.C., last week by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The defense secretary told a gathering of soldiers at the Army base, "The world knows why when the president dials 911 it rings right here in Fayetteville." The base, home to both special-forces troops and the front-line airborne paratroop units, is located near Fayetteville, N.C.

The Marines' problem with Mr. Rumsfeld's remark is that they consider the U.S. Marine Corps to be America's "911 Force" the first troops the president calls on in an emergency requiring military force. The Marines even have put out brochures identifying themselves as the 911 force.

New code word

U.S. intelligence agencies are considering adoption of a new code word to identify secret information: "Homesec," derived from homeland security. The code word, if adopted, would be used to mark classified documents, such as Top Secret-Homsec, or Secret-Homsec. The code would join several other classification categories currently used by the U.S. government to identify its intelligence products. They include such past code words as "Gamma" and "Umbra," both used to identify information derived from communications intelligence, and "Moray," a code word for intelligence that came from human agents.

Intelligence officials said the purpose of adopting the Homsec classification would be to create a new category of information specifically geared toward improving cooperation among agencies in the battle against international terrorism. Currently, there are intelligence restrictions that limit the sharing of intelligence with law enforcement agencies. Homsec intelligence would seek to fix the problem, we are told.


Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, is not ruling out the possibility that the next East Coast carrier battle group can deploy at the highest readiness rating (C-1), even without live-fire training on the island of Vieques. But he is warning the job will be tough.

The carrier USS John F. Kennedy battle group is scheduled to deploy this spring. Adm. Clark has asked Navy Secretary Gordon England to break from current practice and let the ships, and a Marine expeditionary unit, practice with live ammo on the Puerto Rican island in January.

"Vieques training without live ordnance would not, of itself, preclude the ships of the JFK BG and Wasp ARG from attainting C-1 ratings in all mission areas (dependent on completion of scheduled training events)," Adm. Clark said in a letter to Congress.

But the admiral added, "Regarding specific mission areas, conducting strike warfare and amphibious warfare training utilizing close air support and supporting arms coordination with live ordnance will best prepare deploying forces for potential combat, something that presently can only be done on Vieques."

Adm. Clark's petition to reopen Vieques to real bullets was seconded by Gen. James Jones, Marine commandant. They cited the open-ended war on terrorism, which could find sailors and Marines engaged in combat in a variety of locations.

President Clinton banned the use of real ordnance as a compromise with protesters who want the 40-year-old range closed. President Bush then ordered the Navy to leave the island by 2003.

Adm. Clark wrote "there are currently no alternative locations that would provide a higher level of combat readiness than Vieques" prior to the JFK's deployment. "We are deploying forces as ready as available facilities will allow."

Short takes

•When special operations forces began ground combat in Afghanistan, we provided the official Pentagon definition of "direct action" the phrase for special operations forces targeting and killing the enemy.

Now, with the Marine Corps establishing a base this week inside Afghanistan, we are providing the official Defense Department description of a "forward operating base."

The definition reads: "An airfield used to support tactical operations without establishing full support facilities. The base may be used for an extended time period. Supported by a main operating base will be required to provide backup support for a forward operating base. Also called FOB."

•We found this quote on the Internet: "It is God's job to forgive Osama bin Laden. It is the Army's job to arrange a face-to-face meeting."

•Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, is trying to make his tax-relief bill for reservists part of the stalled economic-stimulus package.

The bill would give tax deductions for non-reimbursed travel expenses for Guard and Reserve members. It is backed by the Reserve Officers Association of the United States and has bipartisan support in the Senate.

The hang-up: whether the House and the White House will go along with a bill that will cost $709 million over 10 years.

•Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at [email protected]WashingtonTimes.com. Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at RScarborough@WashingtonTimes.com.

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