It is four and a half acres of American power in the
middle of the Arabian Sea but the influence of USS Dwight D
Eisenhower stretches for hundreds of miles.
The aircraft carrier, backed by its sister vessel, a
handful of destroyers and a shoal of support ships, has placed a
maritime ring of steel around an increasingly unstable region.
While the Eisenhower is ostensibly assisting US
operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is the
looming threat of Iran that increasingly occupies its
Recent tensions between America and Iran over
Teheran's attempts to develop a nuclear weapon have raised the
prospect of its third regional war in a decade.
The addition of a second aircraft carrier to its
strike groups has fuelled the belief that America is gearing up for
a fight with Iran. Not since the Iraq war in 2003 has America
amassed so much fire power around the Gulf.
As flagship of the Fifth Fleet, the Eisenhower
welcomed the arrival of a second Nimitz class nuclear powered
aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, and its accompanying
destroyers on Tuesday.
Captain Dan Cloyd, the Eisenhower's commanding
officer, compared the situation with the international tension of
the Cold War.
"There was a time when we had two aircraft carriers
in the Mediterranean," he told The Daily Telegraph. "The world
changes and we adapt."
The quiet-spoken Capt Cloyd embraced the suggestion
that the dual deployment is at the forefront of efforts to stop Iran
getting a nuclear bomb, pointing out that his maritime assets have
been tasked to quash any challenge to global security.
"Our presence here is an affirmation of our resolve
in this area to engage with the nations of the region either where
we share common goals or where we face challenges."
Every hour and fifteen minutes a handful of jets
scream north across the ocean. The range of missions an aircraft
carrier as big as the Eisenhower - it has more than 5,000 people
onboard - can carry out is virtually limitless.
The Eisenhower is not only the flagship of the
carrier group that protects The Gulf through which one-fifth of the
world's oil is shipped. It has also helped overthrow a hard-line
Islamic regime in Somalia during a stint off the Horn of Africa.
Its fighter jets now offer close support to Nato and
US forces in Afghanistan.
Lieutenant Commander Matt Pothier returned yesterday
from Afghanistan having delivered air support to British soldiers.
He said: "Right now I have more opportunities than I've ever had to
use weapons where we know there aren't any friendly people. In
combat that's very rewarding."
In the carrier's Combat Direction Centre, Warrant
Officer Michael Myers can spot anything untoward in a 256 mile
radius from his radar screen. He can identify objects as small as
wooden boats on the open sea and small aircraft in a swathe of
countries from the Arabian peninsula to the northern shore of the
Sea of Arabia.
Should Lieutenant Commander Craig Stapleton, the
tactical operations officer, give the order, WO Myers can put up
Hawkeye, an EP2 surveillance plane with massive radar capable of
establishing American air traffic control across half a continent.
"Those planes alone extend our radar horizon to a huge circle of the
sky. I could see for 1,000 miles if I wanted to."
As it patrols the shipping lanes of the Strait of
Hormuz, the Eisenhower ensures the safe passage of oil tankers. It
also prevents the trading routes being used to transport materials
that would help rogue nations build a nuclear weapon.
Capt Cloyd said: "Our maritime security mission is
about denying the use of the seas to any potential spread of weapons
of mass destruction."
Iran's belligerent posture has increased the
challenges facing the Eisenhower since it deployed to the Middle
East last October. Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the commander of the
Fifth Fleet, issued a stark warning that Iran risks triggering an
"accidental war" during aggressive military maneuvres.
During the Great Prophet 2 missile test in November,
the Islamic Republic fired a Shabab missile into the six mile
corridor of shipping lanes in the Straits of Hormuz. In such a
constricted corridor, the results could have been disastrous.
With Teheran's real strategic intentions unclear,
the US takes the threats it has made very seriously.
"They threaten to use oil as a weapon. They threaten
to close the Strait of Hormuz," Adml Walsh said.
"And so it is the combination of the rhetoric, the
tone, and the aggressive exercises in very constrained waters that
gives us concern."
US commanders ascribe the increase in instability to
increasingly aggressive actions by Teheran. For that reason the
deployment of the carriers in the region is designed to intensify
the pressure on Iran to step back from the brink.
"In the past year and a half it [Iran] has become
much more strident, more vocal and in your face," said Walsh. "What
concerns me is miscalculation."
Capt Cloyd said his personnel, 70 per cent of whom
have never participated in a long term mission before, are aware
that the workload could grow more intense before the deployment is
"We're aware of the environment and the need to
respond to the environment so that we can protect regional security
We're aware of what other countries could do.
"We're busy but we would move to a higher tempo if