3 aircraft carriers to gather for exercises
The U.S. military plans to gather three aircraft carriers off Guam next month for exercises that will mark the first time since the Vietnam War that so many of the ships have operated in the Pacific Ocean together.
Air Force planes and Marines will also participate in the June maneuvers.
Adm. Gary Roughead, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, said the exercises will offer the Navy a unique opportunity to have three fighter wings practice together. They would also let the military test how well the aircraft carriers, the Air Force and the Marines share information, he said.
"When the opportunity presents itself to be able to do complex types of things, we take advantage of it," Roughead said last week in an interview at his Pearl Harbor headquarters.
Capt. Matt Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the Navy had to go back to records of the Vietnam War to find three aircraft carriers operating together in the Pacific.
Roughead said Guam's central location makes the waters off the U.S. territory the best place for the ships, planes and troops to rendezvous without spending too much time in transit.
The size of the exercises will likely grab the attention of other nations, especially those in the region.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, said significant exercises inevitably send political messages even though they are designed primarily to help troops hone their skills.
Cossa said the June maneuvers would demonstrate to Iran and North Korea that despite its focus on the war in Iraq, the United States would have resources at its disposal in the event of a military confrontation with either country over its respective nuclear program. Cossa said it was unlikely the United States aims to send China a message with the exercises even though that might be a popular interpretation of U.S. intentions.
"I would think today that the U.S. is certainly more concerned that the Iranians and the North Koreans know that we still have the ability to put together a formidable amount of firepower," Cossa said. "The Chinese already know that, and the Chinese aren't doing anything that would require us to send them that message."
The June exercises come just months after the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review said the Navy would boost its presence in the Pacific to keep up with the growth of trade and transport in the region.
The Navy plans to base a majority of its nuclear-powered attack submarines in the Pacific by 2010. It also intends to have six -- or half -- of its aircraft carriers available for operations in the Pacific at any given time.