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Nimitz’s N-weapon status unclear

US Navy officials refuse to confirm or deny the absence of N-warheads on the carrier, reports Rahul Singh.

india Updated: Jul 01, 2007 02:29 IST
Rahul Singh

The Ministry of Defence appears to have gone overboard earlier this week when it sought to mollify the Left parties by claiming that this nuclear-powered supercarrier was not carrying nuclear ordnance. Turns out, that assurance was not backed by hard facts.

Senior US Navy officials on board USS Nimitz, cruising over 450 miles off the Chennai coast, have refused to confirm or deny the absence of weapons with nuclear warheads on the carrier, the centrepiece of American forces necessary for forward presence.

Rear Admiral John Terence Blake, commander, Nimitz Carrier Strike Group 11, told HT that the policy of the US government was not to routinely deploy nuclear weapons on carriers, submarines and aircraft. “But I cannot confirm or deny the absence of nukes on board,” said Blake in an interview in the Nimitz war room which quaked amidst the roar of F-18 Super Hornets being catapulted from the flight deck right above to speeds of over 170 miles in two seconds.

Admiral Blake’s response is likely to stoke up speculation about the weapon status of Nimitz, which entered the US 5th Fleet area of operations in the Persian Gulf in May, as an effective power projection asset.

On June 26, the ministry of defence had claimed that Nimitz was not known to be carrying nuclear weapons. However, several former Indian Navy chiefs are unwilling to believe that the carrier, which will be anchored a couple of miles off the Chennai coast from July 2 to July 5, is not carrying nukes, especially considering its “strategic deployment” in the Persian Gulf.

Admiral Sushil Kumar (retd) said the deployment of Nimitz in any battle zone would be strategically critical and the possibility of it carrying nukes cannot be ruled out. He said, “The US response indicates they want to reserve the option of carrying nukes.”

Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, also an ex-chief, said the carrier was a platform for gunboat diplomacy in the Persian Gulf to bully Iran and had to be carrying N-arsenal. He said: “Do you think F-18s will have standard iron bombs?”

The Nimitz CSG 11 includes aircraft carrier Nimitz, embarked Carrier Air Wing 11, Destroyer Squadron 23, guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton, guided-missile destroyers USS John Paul Jones, USS Higgins, USS Chafee, USS Pinckney and a Seahawk squadron for anti-submarine warfare.

Should the situation require it, US Navy officials said, the aircraft carrier and the air wing team is prepared to accomplish any mission, from unobtrusive surveillance to devastating strikes.

Captain Michael C Manazir, commanding officer, USS Nimitz, said: “We are completely prepared to undertake offensive and defensive operations right now.” Admiral Blake brushed aside concerns about radiation from Nimitz, citing 57 years of successfully running the programme. He said protests are fine and freedom of expression is a good thing.