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Honing war skills in deep waters

world Updated: Oct 23, 2008 00:52 IST
Rahul Singh

Far from the din of the US presidential elections, some first-time American voters aboard one of the largest warships in the world, USS Ronald Reagan, are straining their sinews to build a climate of confidence and cooperation with India.

Carrying a crew of nearly 5,500 with an average age of just 19, the nuclear-powered supercarrier along with a flotilla of US destroyers and frigates is prowling the monstrous swells of the Arabian Sea.

Strapped in the cockpits of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, scores of young naval aviators with catchy call signs such as Party Boy and Lava are being flung off the supercarrier's sprawling 4.5-acre flight deck every minute at speeds of hundreds of miles perhour to launch joint air attacks with Indian Jaguars and Sea Carriers.

The 12th edition of Indo-US joint naval exercises in Malabar is pushing ahead full steam some 130 miles off the Goa coast.

USS Ronald Reagan's skipper Captain Kenneth J. Norton told HT that the two navies were exercising complex warfare areas ranging from air strikes, interceptions, anti-submarine warfare and submarine versus submarine maneouvres. Amid the thud of the catapult launching the Super Hornets, he said, “We are in it for the long term. We have covered a lot of ground in terms of building interoperability. You wouldn't have been aboard a US supercarrier 20 years ago.”

The supercarrier, nicknamed Gipper, carries some 60 aircraft inducing four fighter squadrons, the E-2C Hawkeye AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems), EA-6B Prowlers to protect fleet assets by jamming hostile radars and SH-6OF SeaHawk for anti-submarine warfare.

Interestingly, USS Ronald Reagan acquires its nickname from a role President Ronald Reagan played (George “The Gipper” Gipp) in the 1940 Hollywood film Knute Rockne All American. But 70 mm is no match for real life. The jet blast from the Super Hornets assigned to the embarked ‘Stingers’ squadron sends the flight deck temperatures spiralling to almost 55 degrees Celsius. The 20-something sailors working 12-hour shifts on the flight deck keep wiping sweat off their safety goggles.

The Nimitz-class USS Ronald Reagan may be the flagship of Carrier Strike Group-7 but Indian submariners are drooling over USS Springfield, an N-powered hunter-killer submarine taking part in the war games. Malabar-08 has given them a them a chance to get into the USS Springfield's belly and get a head start on operating N-powered submarines.

A navy officer said: “The hands-on experience will be valuable as the advance technology vehicle, India's nuclear submarine programme, begins sea trials next year. Also, we are inducting a Russian Akula-class nuclear submarine.”