Strait from Hormuz

Strait from Hormuz

Khaleej Times gets a close look at 5th Fleet operations ?in the area from Carrier Strike Group 9 warships


Allan Jacob

Published: Fri 17 Feb 2012, 11:39 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Jul 2020, 11:23 AM

ON BOARD DESTROYER USS STERETT — The Iranian navy did not come in the way of a show of US naval might last week in the Strait of Hormuz amid tensions about Tehran’s nuclear programme and sanctions imposed on it by Western powers.

A US helicopter fires warning flares at a smuggling boat trying to approach the US carrier as it transits the Strait of Hormuz on February 14. —KT Photos by Kiran Prasad
The display was impressive, yet ‘routine’ with over 5,000 sailors aboard three warships, including a carrier, with their wide array of weapon systems and assisted by F-18 fighter aircraft and choppers. You could call it a fighting-fit city on the move, ready to strike if ordered to go on the offensive.
Carrier Strike Group 9’s Nimitz class Carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, USS Sterett and USS Cape St George, looked a potent combination as they transited the strategic Strait which Iran had threatened to block last month if attacked.

A US Navy officer keeps a watch on the USS Sterett during the Hormuz transit.
Khaleej Times was on board the USS Sterett, the destroyer in front protecting the massive Abe Lincoln, and charting the transit. There was no move to thwart it by Iranian naval forces. Only Iranian patrol boats and coast guard vessels were spotted some three nautical miles from the ship, but did not get close to pose any real threat. “That’s normal in these waters,’’ said Commander Rich McDaniel, the Sterett’s Commanding Officer (CO), speaking from his vantage seat on the bridge of the destroyer.
The ship was abuzz with activity from the wee hours of February 14. Sailors were scanning the area with their binoculars, systems on the bridge blinked, radios crackled and orders from the CO were handed down the line. Choppers, or ‘helos’, as the US Navy prefers to call them, were circling overhead. “It is a routine transit, but we have to take all precautions,’’ said Commander McDaniel.

US Navy officers on the bridge of the USS Sterett during the Strait of Hormuz transit.
The choppers sent out from the ships scanned the area to ensure it was safe to pass for the trio.
Navigation is important during such a transit, especially when you are out there to protect the larger carrier and aircraft on its decks.
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) William Pappas and his six quartermasters worked tirelessly through the charts to ensure a safe passage. Preparation was important and the Sterett’s navigation team were up to the task.
Like the sailors, Khaleej Times woke up at the crack of dawn to witness the 10-hour-long show past the 1,200-km long strait, whose narrowest point is 50km wide and which is referred to as the ‘knuckle’. There are lanes for outbound and inbound traffic with a buffer of 2km on each side.

A US helicopter conducts an aerial inspection over an unidentified ship sailing by.
The hours rolled by until 11am. Merchant ships and small boats passed the warship from the other direction. The Sterett’s speed was between 20-25 knots and the Abraham Lincoln was behind by a mile (2km), followed by the Cape.
The Strait was quiet, almost serene in the early hours of the planned transit. Outside the bridge, on the top deck, the sun was out, but the wind cut into the body which often forced this reporter indoors back on the bridge. The roll and the wind had its effect on our photographer who fought hard to ward off the effect of sea sickness. Two pills later he was back on the bridge deck, hands on clicker for some great close up shots of the unfolding events.
At 11.15am, two Iranian boats could be seen in the distance from the Starboard side. Lieutenant Commander David Stebbins and several of his crew were out with their binoculars and it was estimated that the patrol boats were away by five miles. They hung around the area for a while but disappeared into the watery distance as Carrier Strike Group 9 maintained its course and speed.
Commander McDaniel said the ‘bold posture’ was necessary to protect US maritime interests in the region and to ensure the flow of oil which fuels the world economy.
At noon, six fast boats streaked across the Starboard side of the Sterett. “Looks like trouble,’’ said a sailor. But it was soon confirmed that the six were smugglers and the warship let them pass.
Another smuggling boat which headed between the Sterett and Lincoln was warned off with a flare fired by chopper.
“We’re not looking for a confrontation here and we didn’t want to hurt those smugglers, so we asked one of them to stay out of our way,’’ said Commander McDaniel.
A little later, an Iranian F-27 surveillance aircraft flew over the Sterett from behind. Again, this is normal while transiting the Strait, said the CO.
A combined sigh of relief was palpable as the crew munched into hamburgers and snacks from their positions at 1pm. The tense part of the transit near the ‘knuckle’ was over and the three warships had made it to the Gulf of Oman without incident.
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet was sending a clear message to Tehran with this show of might and Commander McDaniel summed it up nicely. “We’re here to stay and ensure the safety of shipping in the Strait. That’s our mission.’’

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