(Briefing via satellite-teleconference from Bahrain, with Bryan Whitman, DASD PA, Media Operations)
Whitman: We should reward those that come here early, and on time, and go ahead and get started.
Well, thank you for being here this morning. This is the second in our series of briefings by coalition combatant commanders -- or coalition commanders, excuse me -- for Operation Iraqi Freedom. And today we're being joined by Vice Admiral Timothy Keating, who joins us live from Bahrain there on the screen. Admiral Keating is the commander of all maritime forces involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, a force that includes five aircraft carrier battle groups, and 20 amphibious ships. He's going to talk to you about the ongoing Navy role in this conflict.
And we will be joined by both the media centers in Qatar as well as in Kuwait, and we will try to take questions from all of those different places, including here in the Pentagon, if the technology holds up for us.
So, Admiral, with that, if you'd like to start by making some comments before we get to the questions, you're on.
Keating: Thanks, Bryan. Good morning everybody. As Brian mentioned, I'm Vice Admiral Tim Keating, I’m General Franks' Naval Component Commander, and I'm coming to you from our headquarters here in the Arabian Gulf. I'm delighted to join you this morning and represent as best I can the 60,000 men and women we have in this AOR, on over 140 ships, as Brian mentioned, the five carrier battle groups. And I should point out of those 140 ships, those represent a very broad coalition from countries all around the world.
Since the 20 of March, aircraft flying from our carriers have flown over 7,000 sorties -- 7,000 sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the air component command power projection mission. Maritime patrol aircraft, our big-wing P-3s principally, have provided valuable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield forward into Iraq and over Baghdad as we speak in support of ground and sea assets. Vast sea-lift ships brought in equipment that support the ground forces and also our planes – and our jets are providing close air support for the marines and the soldiers who are all throughout Baghdad this morning.
Navy ships using advanced radar systems were able to augment the Patriot missile coverage. Patriots, as you know, ashore -- our ships up in the north Arabian Gulf were able to augment the Patriot system, given the Patriots longer range, advance warning, and we think contributing significantly to the very successful mission the Patriots have enjoyed in the early stages of the campaign.
Since we began Operation Iraqi Freedom on the 19th of March, United States and United Kingdom ships have fired over 800 Tomahawk missiles in support of General Franks' campaign. Sailors and ships, I mentioned this earlier, from coalition countries around the world are a very successful -- part of the successful operation of the liberation of Iraq, and it's important to note our ongoing global war on terrorism which is being -- we're still conducting that in the waters of the north Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea.
The United States Coast Guard is fully integrated in the maritime picture, providing coastal security patrols, escorting humanitarian shipments, even as we speak, and conducting navigational surveys of the very critical waterways, the Khor-Abdullah and the Shatt-al-Arab waters into Iraqi seaports.
The United States Naval Ship Comfort, our hospital ship, is providing care not only to our wounded but to Iraqi civilians and Iraqi military. This morning, there are over 80 Iraqi enemy prisoners of war who are in a significantly serious medical condition that they have been airlifted out to the United States ship Comfort, which is on station in the north Arabian Gulf. Eighty Iraqi military personnel and 40 Iraqi civilians, displaced civilians, all of them in significant -- who have suffered injuries significantly enough that they are out on the Comfort.
A very good story, we think, are the humanitarian supplies that are coming into the port of Umm Qasr, which is up the Khor-Abdullah waterway that I mentioned. We had to do a significant mine-clearing effort, United States and British forces conducting a very comprehensive mine-clearing effort to make sure that the waterways were opened, and there have been three military ships, and there is one civilian ship from the United Arab Emirates -- the people and government of the Emirates have a ship pier side now that's offloading 500 tons of humanitarian assistance goods for the people of Iraq.
As I started, I'm very proud to take any questions that you may have today, representing the over 60,000 young men and women who are doing very heavy lifting here. They're doing remarkable work in the days since the campaign began on the 20th of March.
I would like to point out to you that men and women of the U.S.S. ABRAHAM LINCOLN battle group just left the -- our AOR today. They left home in July of 2002, and they have been in our AOR since the 11th of September. So, the men and women, the ships, the airplanes, and the submarines in that battle group have been -- will have been away from home for 10 months, and they have been in the Fifth Fleet waters, the Central Command waters for six months, and they are just now leaving our waters, headed home for a well-earned reunion with their family and friends.
I'd be happy to take any questions you might have.
Whitman: Admiral, I think we'll start here in the Pentagon with a couple of questions, and then we'll see where we have folks in the other media centers.
Q Admiral, this is Bob Burns from Associated Press. Regarding the air part of your duties, clearly the air campaign has changed in nature fairly dramatically in the last couple of days, and you still have close air support missions and so forth, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. But on the strike part of it, it has gone down quite a bit in the last 24 hours. Are you thinking about or planning, in fact, to send one or two carrier battle groups back soon? Kitty Hawk, for example?
Keating: Do you have me now again -- (inaudible) ?
Whitman: Yes. Admiral, if you could start that answer again, we didn't catch any of the beginning.
Keating: It was a pretty good answer. I'd be happy to.
It's a great question, Bob. We are looking at a gradual and measured reduction of those naval forces that are in the AOR. We're talking with General Franks and his staff on that as we speak.
You're correct in that the requirement for power projection sorties has decreased a little, and as General Franks see the campaign progressing, he will give us permission to let carriers leave the Arabian -- and other ships and submarines leave the Arabian Gulf, but that's, I think, a matter more for CENTCOM. As of this morning, we still have three in the Arabian Gulf and two in the Eastern Med. We do have -- we're considering plans to let them go, but I'm not, the CINC hasn't told me I can do it yet.
Q Hi. Admiral, this is Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. On the 800 Tomahawks you've launched, can you give us a sense of the types of targets they were launched against, how often you coordinated with the Air Force like you did on the night of March 19th with the F-117 strike? And what's your inventory situation now? There have been a number of speculations that it's half the inventory or a third of what you have in theater. Thank you.
Keating: Tony, we coordinate all those targets with the Air Force. As I think you all talked last week with General Buzz Moseley, he is the air component commander, and so all offensive air operations, manned or unmanned -- and unmanned, are coordinated with -- through Buzz Moseley's targeting shops. So, any target that we're assigned and told to prosecute, that is vetted with Buzz Moseley's air component command headquarters. The types of targets were broad-ranging. Some of them were time-sensitive targets -- that is to say that we had intelligence that led us to believe that this particular location was a valuable target. And so in a relatively brief period of time, particularly compared to the years past, we were able to do the planning, get the missile loaded with its mission data, out of a submarine or -- a British or American submarine or American ship -- and down range and export on the target, or some rather more stationary and strategic targets, including missile defense facilities, to Republican Guard headquarters, and some regime structures in and around Baghdad and all throughout the country.
Our inventory is high. We have shot a good bunch, as you know. I just said 800. I retain a very healthy number still in this AOR, and the navy has even more than that in other ships throughout the world and in armories back home. We're in good shape. We could always use more -- we could use more of everything, but we have plenty of -- (inaudible).
Whitman: Why don't we take another one from here, and then we'll try Qatar next. ***
Reporter: )Admiral, Thelma (inaudible) with Associated Press Broadcast, I wanted to follow-up on Bob's question. He did a good summary, but I wonder if you could put in your words, exactly how do you see the situation for the number of aircraft carrier battle groups there? And I understand that Franks is the one who will make the decision, but what are your thoughts about which ships you might send back, which ones are still necessary there, and also could you outline which ships still remain in which areas?
Keating: Thelma, I'm an old carrier pilot, so I like to keep as many of them nearby as I can. It's as close as I can get to flying them off a carrier these days. We have three in the Gulf today. And Admiral Scott Frye and the 6th Fleet has two in the Eastern Med. It's likely that we'll decrease that number gradually in the days ahead. You know, there are other areas of the world where other combatant commanders would like to have aircraft carriers themselves -- and other assets to be sure, but aircraft carriers included on their wish list.
So, Kitty Hawk may leave in a couple of days -- maybe a little bit longer. That will bring us down to two. And then the U.S.S. Nimitz just arrived, so I think it's likely near certain that we'll keep her for quite a while. And that leaves the U.S.S. Constellation, and we will look to send her back home as soon as we -- as soon as General Franks says that the requirement has diminished sufficiently.
It's important to note that the Constellation, they've been with us -- she is supposed to have been home by now, back in San Diego, with their air wing having flown off. So, those kids have done great work, as has everyone, and they're anxious to get home too. So, we'll -- we're working on a plan to get them home as quickly as we can, but our mission remains the same, to ensure the overthrow of the regime, and when General Franks says "go," we'll be ready to go. Those kids aren't going to drag their feet.
Whitman: Let's try to go to Qatar real quick. We have a lot of questions here at the Pentagon still, but let's see if there's somebody on the line there at Qatar.
Q Hi Admiral. It's Kelly O'Donnell from NBC. Could you speak a little more about the time-sensitive targeting, because this has been considered such an important part of what's been described as the flexible war plan? How in advance of receiving the intelligence information were you poised and ready to act when you would get it? How quickly and the fastest turnaround that you experienced, were you able to get the order and then execute that order? Can you just give us a sense of how that has changed your role, and how you've had to adapt to those needs?
Keating: I'll do my best, Kelly. When I was -- when TLAM were first introduced into the Navy arsenal, it was a matter of not hours, not even days, but several days for all of the planning to take place. And so it took quite a while from determination of target, through mission planning, to prosecution of the targets. These days it can be measured in hours, due principally to -- well, one reason, we have better computers these days. Another reason, more important, we have smarter kids doing it these days. And third, the fusion of intelligence and operations and our ability to communicate over secure lines worldwide. All of those factors contribute to a dramatic reduction in the time required from determination that's the target we want to hit to Tomahawk impacting the target.
Whitman: Let's see if there's one more from Qatar.
Q Yes sir. Jason -- (inaudible) -- from CBS. You mentioned the Patriot missiles. I was wondering -- (inaudible) -- how many of them have been used, and what sort of targets?
Keating: Jason, I'm sorry, could you -- I missed your question, could you say it again, please?
Q Yes. It was about Patriot missiles. Could you tell us how many Patriot missiles have been used, and what kind of targets?
Keating: The shortest answer I can give you is I don't know how many Patriot missiles have been used. For the naval contribution, of the 13 missiles that were fired in the early campaign -- 13 Iraqi missiles that were fired in the early campaign, that were engaged by Patriot, 12 of them, those Iraqi missiles, were detected, tracked, and had information and the missile time of flight fed to the Patriot battery, but that's the extent of my knowledge about Patriots -- 12 of 13 that were engaged in the early days had naval ship TBMD information passed. I don't have any ideas of the total number launched.
Whitman: Let's see if there's anyone on the line from Kuwait, and then we'll come back to the Pentagon.
I think it's fair to say there's nobody on the line there, so let's go back here.
Q Admiral Keating, it's Tammy Kupperman with NBC News. I had actually two totally unrelated questions for you. The first is about the carbon filament warheads on some of the Tomahawks. Can you talk to us a little bit about how they've performed, any examples of targets that have been struck, and any idea of numbers of these weapons that have been used?
And then I also wanted to ask about if there had been any -- anything going on in the Shatt-al-Arab between some of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats and U.S. craft? I'm not sure if it's Navy special warfare or Coast Guard. Anything you can share about that?
Keating: Tammy, I'm not at liberty to discuss anything about the carbon filament warheads.
The Shatt-al-Arab is, as you know, its eastern border and up into the northern border is the shores of the country of Iran. And so we're very careful as we are prosecuting our campaign in the Shatt-al- Arab.
There have been, to my knowledge, no incidents where Iraqi forces, certainly none recently, in the last week or two of the campaign, have presented any threat to our forces in the Shatt-al-Arab, and we're being very careful to ensure that the Iranian forces in those waters, just outside the Shatt and up into the Shatt are aware of our intentions and that we mean them no harm at all.
Q Admiral, Dale Eisman with the Virginian Pilot. Particularly early in the campaign, we were hearing of shortages of tankers, pilots having to wait in long lines to get tanked up. Is that continuing? How serious a problem was it, or is it?
Keating: In the early days, Dale, there were some allocations challenges, certainly, that we worked through with Buzz Moseley. It didn't affect the overall campaign. We were able to move gas around tactically and operationally, if you will, near real time, and then make some accommodations in the air tasking order. You have to remember, and some of the guys you may know down from Oceania, for a fighter pilot, there's never enough gas airborne. They can always use more. So, you'll hear that beef from junior through senior fighter pilots of all services. There's never enough gas. There were some early growing pains, if you will, with the hundreds and hundreds of airplanes in the air simultaneously, but those problems were resolved very quickly, and it had no impact on the overall campaign.
Whitman: Jean-Michel Taligue (sp) with AFP, Agence France Press. Admiral, how do you assess the behavior of Iran? Have there been any aggressive behavior from part of the ships there? And what was the result of the incident with the missile, the U.S. missile that landed mistakenly in Iran?
Keating: Before -- through the months preceding our campaign, we have, through various channels, worked hard to ensure that the Iranians knew that we would be increasing our force posture in the Arabian Gulf, the Persian Gulf, as they like to refer to it. And so they knew we were coming in greater numbers than we are normally in the Gulf, and we have been in the Arabian Gulf for 50 years, and so they're used to seeing us sometimes over the course of the last 50 years. They have been less pleased to see us in this part of the world. But that said, they knew we were coming. We have observed very carefully long-standing, you know, for centuries, nautical rules of the road, and we have had no conflict in any with any Iranian naval forces in the Arabian Gulf.
The second question was -- oh, a missile, an American missile into Iran. I'm not aware that there was an American missile in Iran. I know there have been pieces of ordinance that fell in Iran, but the investigation, to my knowledge, is ongoing, and I am not aware of any conclusive results -- (inaudible). I don't mean to be evasive, I just -- I'm not sure it was any American ordinance that fell in Iraq.
Q Admiral, Nick Childs from the BBC. You had five carrier battle groups in this conflict, as you've said. You had a similar number -- I think six, in the previous Gulf War conflict, 1991. But could you say how the use of these assets has changed because of the changes in technology between the two conflicts?
Keating: That's a very good question, Nick. I was flying off the U.S.S. Saratoga out in the Red Sea in 1991 for the first Gulf War, as it's, I think, being called. And every piece of ordnance that I delivered was what we called a "dumb bomb." I don't know that that was a reflection on the ordnance or the pilot, but it was called a dumb bomb, and it was free-fall ordnance, if you will. We were pretty good bombers, but still, nothing in comparison to the ordnance that we're delivering today.
Over 70 percent of the bombs that we've dropped, and we've had almost 14,000 power projection sorties that delivered air -- (inaudible) -- ordinance from -- in the entire campaign -- three quarters of that ordnance is precision guided, and that is either global positioned satellite or laser guided. And as you've seen from the film clips shown at -- both in CENTCOM headquarters and in the Pentagon, those are delivered with pinpoint accuracy. So, that alone has made a substantial difference in how this campaign is conducted.
I talked a little bit earlier about our command and control capabilities. It's a lot quicker, more rapid analysis of the effect of that individual bomb in the overall picture that allows us to integrate the intelligence much more quickly, to prosecute a more aggressive campaign.
And we also have some new airplanes in this particular conflict. We've had the introduction of the F-18 E and F, our new Super Hornet, which has longer legs. It can fly further, it can carry more ordnance. It has some very sophisticated radar and electronic improvements, so it has proven -- and it can also, by the way, carry a tanker store to pass gas to other airplanes airborne, which goes back, I think, to Dale's question about gas airborne. We've been able to flex a little bit with the F-18 E/F and do -- accomplish even more missions that we could in 1991.
So, it is a quantitative difference and a qualitative difference in the type of campaign that we are able to prosecute from the aircraft carriers.
Whitman: We'll do one more here at the Pentagon and then we'll try Qatar again.
Q Hi Admiral. Doug Holt, Chicago Tribune. Regarding those precision-guided munitions and also cruise missiles, can you give us any preliminary sense on how they've worked, how -- what percentage has hit their targets and what percentage went haywire?
Keating: You know, as do I, that a few of our missiles have been found in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. We've shot over 800 and we've found less than 10 in -- that didn't get to the target, if you will. That is a very low percentage, as you no doubt -- 1- over-80, what's that .1 -- 1.25 percent. As for the effectiveness of those Tomahawks and the effectiveness of each individual piece of ordnance, I couldn't tell you right now, but I would say, hazarding a guess, that the dramatic success that General Franks and everybody working for him that we've enjoyed is likely due to our ability to prosecute specific targets throughout the entire country of Iraq, and again, prosecuting with remarkable, in our view, remarkable flexibility and this very pinpoint precision so as to be able to, in the aggregate go very quickly around areas where we didn't want to fight or didn't need to fight and get to the heart of the Iraqi regime leadership and topple that leadership in very short order.
Whitman: Let's see if there's somebody at Qatar that has a question.
Q (Inaudible) -- Television. My question is are you involved in the -- (inaudible) -- in and around Tikrit? And if so, how?
Keating: Our naval forces from carriers in the Eastern Med principally -- that's not right. Early on, the carriers in the Eastern Med were launching combat sorties into northern Iraq while our ships here in the Arabian Gulf concentrated on southern and central Iraq. Now, we are all launching sorties to provide close air support for marines principally in and around Tikrit -- marines and special operations forces, I should point out -- around Tikrit and Mosul, and (inaudible) and other -- Mosul and Tikrit up north. So, it's naval air forces with some special operations forces -- (inaudible).
Whitman: Is there another question from Qatar.
Qatar: No further questions from Qatar.
Whitman: Well, we have a few more here at the Pentagon, so let's go back here.
Q Good morning, Admiral. It's Tom Shanker from the New York Times. I have a question about SCUDs. Your people have been flowing close air support and ISR over so much of the country. What have they reported back to you about what they have seen about SCUDs? And why do you think we haven't seen any -- none have been launched?
Keating: We have seen some SCUDs (sic – surface-to-surface missiles, other than SCUDS), Tom. And I don't have the best intel on that. It's been more soldiers and marines that have seen the SCUDs (sic—see above), and our British soldiers and marines I think have come across several themselves.
But it's important to note that we've had an ongoing -- way before 20 -- 19 March when the actual kinetic operations began, but we've had a very extensive and comprehensive information operations campaign, and from airplanes alone, we've dropped 44 million leaflets in and around -- over Iraq to filter down, and on those leaflets occasionally were messages that encouraged Iraqi citizens and soldiers to avoid shooting any SCUDs. And so to the best of my knowledge, the -- a direct result of that information operation campaign, including 44 million leaflets, has been the total lack of SCUD launches. So, we've seen some on the ground. To my knowledge, there have been none launched. And a reason why that may be true is the very effective information operations campaign that has been waged -- or prosecuted is probably a better word -- for many months prior to the commencement of hostilities.
Q Hi. This is Lisa Burgess with Stars & Stripes. Can you give us a better sense of how hard your people have been working, the kind of hours that they've been keeping? We've heard about some of the crew members doing 18-hour shifts. And also, now that things are starting to settle down a little bit, do you have any plans to relieve people, maybe steel beach picnics, or even days off?
Keating: I've been lucky enough, Lisa, to go out to -- I went to the three carriers in the Gulf on the day the campaign started, and I looked them all in the eye and I told them that I was going to be on a very significant video tele-conference just as we're doing now -- I told them that later that night I was going to be on the VTC, and I wanted to be able to tell the president of the United States -- I had a clue what the president was going to ask us -- and he was going to say "Admiral, is there anything else you need?"
And I was able to look those young men and women in the eyes, and then come back here to the headquarters and tell the president of the United States that his United States Navy was -- By God -- ready. And I wasn't just making that up. It wasn't a bumper sticker. I was able to look those kids in the eye and affirm, looking at them face-to-face, that they were ready. They've worked very hard since, but the message to the president and to you would be the same right now -- they're hard -- they are -- they've worked hard, but they're well-trained, they're well-fed, they get as much rest as they can. They're still ready. They're still eager. They're still willing.
As far as steel beach picnics, if they have one, I hope I get an invitation.
Q This is Will Dunham (sp) with Reuters. Could you give a breakdown numerically of the ships in this naval force from the allies, talk a little bit about the role of the non-American ships in this operation? And just to go back to the issue of the Constellation and the Kitty Hawk, when is the earliest that they would possibly depart?
Keating: Coalition contributions have been significant. We have about 140 ships in the AOR as we speak. A little under half of those are coalition ships. Not all of those are working with us in the Arabian Gulf. More than half of those coalition ships are outside the Arabian Gulf, helping us in this ongoing campaign we have on the global war on terrorism -- leadership, interdiction operations, escorting coalition ships through the Straits of -- (inaudible) -- and the Strait of Hormuz. You now, we have ongoing intelligence that al Qaeda terrorists are still intent on wreaking mayhem on ships, as they did with the U.S.S. Cole. Some of those terrorists recently escaped from a Yemeni prison. We don't have any intelligence that they're planning-- those guys are planning another operation-- don't let me lead you astray there. But there are still bad guys out there.
So, escorting folks through narrow restricted waterways is a very important mission, and coalitions ships are allowing us to do that, not to mention that hundreds of -- almost 500 sea lift ships that have brought mostly equipment but some personnel to this AOR. So, the contributions of the coalition have been significant. They're significant to date, and we will continue to rely on our partners in the weeks and months ahead.
Q He didn't finish the question on the Kitty Hawk.
Whitman: Yes --
Keating: Oh, I'm sorry, the second part of the question -- (inaudible) -- and Kitty Hawk, I think the fairest answer I can give you is we're working with the Central Command staff. There have been no orders issued yet for either of those ships to leave. We're anxious to get those folks back to their home ports as soon as we can. But, as I said in the answer previously, our job is to do what the president tells us to, and through the -- through General Franks. We'll get them going as soon as we can, but I have not received any orders to do that yet.
Whitman: Let's go back over here to Tony, I think.
Q Sir, this is Tony Capasio (sp) again with Bloomberg. I had a follow-up. Can you give us a sense of some of the steps, the less obvious steps you've taken before the conflict, during and now, to protect the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz? We saw the dramatic SEAL team rescues of those two terminals up in the northern Gulf. Can you give us the sense, though, of the breadth of activities we haven't seen that have kept the flow of oil unimpeded?
Keating: I'll do my best. It's, as I said a little bit ago, the United States Navy has been here in the Arabian Gulf for -- since the late '50s. And one of our principal purposes is keeping the sea lanes of communication open. Estimates vary, but a whole lot of the world's oil goes through the Strait of Hormuz. So, over the years we have done some fairly sophisticated sexy things, and generally some fairly mundane, day-in, day-out kind of workman-like efforts to ensure that the flow can remain unimpeded. You remember Operation Praying Mantis years ago where we were taking fire from -- commercial vessels were taken fire from belligerents. And to this day we watch very carefully to ensure that that doesn't happen.
And our means of doing that principally is by escorting, providing armed escort -- that is to say naval arms, naval vessels with those ships that are transiting the Strait of Hormuz that we think need the protection, and maintaining a very robust presence around the Strait of Hormuz. There's nobody out there now, absent terrorist organizations, with whom we're worried, but we still keep a very close watch on those -- that critical part of -- the critical sea lane of communication.
Whitman: Let's go over here, and then back to Dale, okay.
Q Admiral, it's David Lehrman (sp) from the Newport News Daily Press. You talked about the carriers in the Gulf. Can you give us a similar update for the carriers in the Mediterranean and how much longer they might be needed?
Keating: I'll do my best. These discussions that I've described a couple of times that we have ongoing with General Franks and his staff, they certainly include the carriers in the Eastern Med -- that's the Theodore Roosevelt and the Truman. Truman -- I don't want to get too technical, but they were -- they're on a normally scheduled deployment right now, so they didn't surge so much. This is part of, you know, the ongoing naval deployments that we do 365 days a year around the world. So, Truman would have been somewhere in the world, the Eastern Mediterranean or Arabian Gulf at this time anyway. The Theodore Roosevelt surged to help in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and those two boats have done spectacular work in the target prosecution campaign in northern Iraq. They've had to fly a long way, as you know, we enjoy Turkish overflight. So, it would be the same for them as it is for those carriers that we have in the Gulf. As the CINC decides that his objectives are being realized, he will allow us to phase ships back home.
Now, I started with Truman. They're supposed to have -- they're still on cruise anyway, and their normal six-month deployment doesn't call for them to get home until, I think, the end of May. So, I think it would be logical that we might retain -- and I don't know this for a fact -- that we might retain one of the two carriers in the Med for a while and let the other one return home. The important piece here is we need to reconstitute the naval force worldwide, and to reconstitute you've got to get home, give folks a little leave, conduct ongoing training, replenish the ships, do some maintenance on the ships and the airplanes, and then get back into a somewhat predictable pattern. But, you've got to maintain a certain readiness so you can surge assets wherever in the world they may be needed, and that's what allowed us to be able to get five carriers here in the Arabian -- in the -- (inaudible) -- AOR, and oh, by the way, don't forget that the U.S.S. Carl Vinson is in the waters of the Western Pacific.
So, the Navy has six carriers -- (inaudible) -- right now. We need to get some home so we can kind of reset, and -- (inaudible) -- and be ready.
Q Admiral, Dale Eisman again. You gave us an update a minute ago on improvements in the air campaign since the first Gulf War. Could you talk a little bit about the mine warfare campaign? Mine warfare has been a source of concern in the Navy for some time. You had significant losses to mines in the first Gulf War. I know you didn't have that this time, but how has the mine campaign changed?
Keating: (Inaudible) -- big and small, Dale, and we have -- it's a coalition effort here. The British have given us -- have contributed a number of smaller minesweeping vessels to complement ours, so we've got near a dozen small ships that are conducting what we call "surface mine countermeasure," and it starts out in the North Arabian Gulf and continues in a very methodical and well-practiced pattern up into the Khor-Abdullah, all the way up to Umm Qasr so far, and will continue north. We've got seven MH-53s, you know, the big helicopters that pull sleds behind them for air mine countermeasures -- a very complicated, complex system. And in addition, we've had some explosive ordinance disposal crews, both -- and the Australians have helped us here, as have the British and American navy explosive ordnance crews who found about 5,000 pieces of suspicious material just around the port of Umm Qasr. And they disposed of those one way or the other. And in addition we used our marine mammals. You may have seen some media coverage of the dolphins, which we brought from San Diego, that helped us -- they're the most -- they're the best at finding submerged objects underneath, in the silky bottom, which is characteristic of the bottom of the water in the North Arabian Gulf and Umm Qasr.
So, some of these ships are very old. They have very advanced sonar. The helicopter platforms are not brand new but the sleds they tow are very sophisticated. The explosive ordinance disposal guys are very well trained, and that's a coalition effort. And the marine dolphins are the best in the world at what they do.
Whitman: Let's go back over here.
Q Yes, Admiral, Jean-Michel Taligue (sp), AFP again. I know you like to have as many assets as possible, but with hindsight, were five carrier groups, naval groups necessary in terms of sorties and launching of Tomahawks, or could you have done with a bit less?
Keating: I think five was just the right number. We wrestled with that one some. We had a total force package somewhat smaller up to somewhat larger. And some very sophisticated war games were conducted and some computer models were run. And in the end, after we went through many, many, many hours of briefings with General Franks, he said "I think five is about right." And then I went to Admiral Clark, the Chief of Naval Operations, and I said, "Well, you know, Admiral, we're thinking that five is a pretty good numbers." He goes, "I think five is about right, too." I don't mean to be glib. We put a lot of work into it. But I think the result of a lot of that work and some -- the remarkable experience of General Franks and Admiral Clark, the confluence of that work and their experience led to the number five, and that was just about right.
Whitman: Let's go over here to Thelma, and them maybe one more.
Q (Inaudible) -- of AP Broadcasts again. I'm sorry to raise this one more time, and I realize that this is all subject to Franks' orders, but could you just sum up in your own words, it appears that the Abraham Lincoln is leaving today, has left today. Perhaps, if the order is given out, the Kitty Hawk and maybe the Constellation, and I gather what you're saying is the TR might also be the next to move out, assuming that the order is given. Could you just sum that up in your own words, and also again explain why -- why the, since the mission in changing, in your own words, would you explain why they would be leaving?
Keating: Well, let me come at it maybe a little bit different way. We're not going to send anybody -- I mean, Nimitz arrived and Lincoln left, and we launched near 200 power projection sorties just yesterday. To sustain that level of sortie generation, it -- we could do it with a couple less, one or -- one, maybe two less carriers, but as I just, in answering the question just before you, five is about the right number to do that. If the sortie requirement goes down, then we'll be able to pull carriers off the line and send them home. And that's what General Franks, in coordination with his land and air component commander and his staffs, they're working that right now. Because, you know, you all know maybe better than I, as well as I, that air-to-ground, the prosecution of air-to-ground targets is decreasing somewhat as the campaign reaches a certain phase of completion. It is very likely that we'll be able to pull some assets, and not just naval assets -- Air Force, Marine and Army assets -- out of the theater and send them on to other things.
So, that's kind of a tortuous answer. It depends on the requirement. I think the requirement is going to decrease relatively soon, and as that decrease is realized, we'll be able to pull assets out of the theater.
Whitman: All right, Admiral, I think that we've depleted our questions here also. So, I'd like to thank you for spending some time with us this morning, this evening over there, and for telling us about the Navy's ongoing role in this conflict. Thank you.
Keating: Thank you, Brian. It's a pleasure.
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