The battle group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is on its way to Asia.

Navy ships off Kauai
prepare for war in Iraq

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The aircraft carrier battle group USS Carl Vinson moved into operations near Kauai this weekend as it makes its way to Asia as a possible replacement for the battle group led by the carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

The early deployment of the Carl Vinson to the western Pacific is to give Pentagon planners the flexibility of having five aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region for a possible war against Iraq.

The Navy said there are no plans for the Vinson to make a port call at Pearl Harbor.

There are no Pearl Harbor-based warships assigned to the Carl Vinson. In October 2001, the Aegis destroyer USS O'Kane sailed with the Vinson and was part of the attack on Afghanistan in retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

Then on its maiden voyage, the 504-foot O'Kane was part of the Vinson carrier battle group and supported the first U.S. airstrikes against Afghanistan. Last week, the O'Kane left for the western Pacific, with Navy officials saying only that its crew of 350 would be participating in the continuing global war on terrorism.

Last week, the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group, which was supposed to return this month to its home station in Everett, Wash., was diverted to the Persian Gulf region.

The Lincoln will join three other carriers -- the USS Roosevelt, USS Harry S. Truman and USS Constellation -- for a possible attack on Iraq. The nuclear attack submarine USS Columbia from Pearl Harbor also is assigned to the Constellation battle group, as is the USS Fletcher, also out of Pearl Harbor.

A five-carrier force would be the largest concentration of air power at sea since the Persian Gulf War of 1991, when six carriers were deployed.

Each aircraft carrier travels with a battle group of destroyers, cruisers and other ships, plus a submarine. Aboard each carrier are about 70 aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters and support planes.

Three Pearl Harbor-based vessels -- the destroyer USS Paul Hamilton, frigate USS Reuben James and nuclear submarine USS Honolulu -- are part of the 11-ship battle group assigned to the USS Lincoln.

Also working up on an accelerated deployment schedule off the West Coast is the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier battle group, whose warships included the cruiser USS Chosin and nuclear attack submarine USS Pasadena from Pearl Harbor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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