ABOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN » F/A-18 Hornets started to take off in waves just after 5 p.m. yesterday as more than 100 crew members wearing different colored shirts—including brown for maintenance, yellow for handlers and purple for fuelers—worked the deck of the ship, mostly using hand signals in the noisy and windy environment.
Fifty miles south of Oahu, a two-seater Hornet powered up with enough force to cause a vibration in the chest and launched off the deck in less than three seconds at 150 mph.
With 4,500 sailors and about 60 aircraft, the aircraft carrier Reagan is the centerpiece of the "Rim of the Pacific" naval exercises, which bring together 14 nations for interoperability training.
"We’re bringing 90,000 tons of diplomacy out here to the central Pacific in order to demonstrate our resolve, (and) in order to give our like-minded partners that we have out here an understanding of carrier operations," U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden, who commands a multinational task force of 11 U.S. and foreign ships, said yesterday.
The $4.5 billion aircraft carrier, at 1,092 feet nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall, pulled out of Pearl Harbor yesterday at about 1:15 p.m. for the start of several weeks of RIMPAC war games.
The biennial RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise, technically began June 23, but preceding days comprised an "in-port" phase.
Five submarines, more than 170 aircraft and about 20,000 personnel are taking part in RIMPAC, which involves the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
All 32 ships either pulled out of Pearl Harbor yesterday or are leaving today. The exercise ends Aug. 1.
The Reagan’s commanding officer, Capt. Kenneth J. Norton, said the carrier is a "force provider" for RIMPAC. At a certain point in the exercise, the Reagan will represent the "green" force opposing the "orange" force.
The carrier will participate in anti-submarine and surface warfare, and it will be a simulated target for the opposing force.
"They use a term for the carrier. They say we’re a high-value (ship)," Norton said.
The San Diego-based Reagan was in the Gulf of Oman, providing air support for the war in Afghanistan from July 2 to Sept. 17 last year. Daytime temperatures reached more than 100 degrees there.
"Stressful" is how Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Costa, 26, recalled the deployment. The Simi Valley, Calif., man was an information systems technician.
"Basically, with everything going on (in the Gulf of Oman), there’s a lot of high visibility with what you were doing. Everything you do is crucial," he said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Zach Mayorga, 22, from Houston, an electronics technician, said the pressure is less during RIMPAC.
"Here, it’s not too bad. It’s more relaxed because we know we’re not going to be dropping bombs tonight," Mayorga said.
This year’s exercise includes units or personnel from Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S.
The Navy also said there will be three observer nations: Brazil, India and New Zealand.
A tactical "free play" segment will round out the exercise with a yet-to-be-announced warlike scenario.
Diesel submarines from Japan and South Korean are participating. A proliferation of quiet diesel-electric submarines in the Pacific from nonallied nations represents a growing threat for the U.S., officials say.