Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot..over: Too many war ships in the Persian Gulf
U.S., Iran do Persian Gulf squeeze
The stakes are big and the waterway is small, so communication between the two sides is a must to keep a lid on tensions.
By Borzou Daragahi, Times Staff Writer
July 11, 2007
ABOARD THE USS JOHN C. STENNIS — Iran and the United States remain so far apart on so many issues that they refuse to talk about them.
But in the cramped sea routes of the Persian Gulf, U.S. and Iranian warship sailors and fighter pilots speak to each other daily.
"We are operating very close to their territorial waters in a very confined space with a tremendous amount of traffic, be it the small dhows, be it the supertankers going up to the oil platforms," said U.S. Navy Capt. Sterling Gilliam Jr., commander of air operations for this nuclear-powered supercarrier and its associated ships.
"The margin of error is smaller in that the space is more confined. That would be the case even if anyone was your ally, just because of the sheer small size of the Arabian Gulf," Gilliam said, using an alternative name for the body of water.
Even mundane changes of direction require chitchat with Iranian counterparts. When sedate gulf winds fade to a whisper, for example, this 100,000-ton carrier whips up to the 25 knots required to hurl jets into flight from the 1,092-foot flight deck.
But first the vessel alerts nearby forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and the organization's navy.
"We would do the standard international maritime measures," said Capt. Bradley Johanson, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier.
"We would call them on their radio and say, 'Sir, I just wanted to let you know that we're going to be turning to port and be coming to this course so that we're into the wind in support of our flight operation."
The Iranians respond professionally and courteously, Johanson said: " 'Thank you very much for the information. We will move off to the starboard position. We very much appreciate the heads-up.' "
Nearly half of the U.S. Navy's 277 warships are stationed close to Iran, alongside most of Tehran's estimated 140 naval surface ships and six submarines, according to GlobalSecurity.org. More than five dozen aircraft are aboard the Stennis, along with dozens more aboard the Nimitz, another U.S. aircraft carrier in the gulf.