Friday, December 31, 2004

Compare and contrast

A US Navy aircraft carrier battle group, based on the carrier USS Lincoln, is heading from Hong Kong to Sumatra. Five ships from the 17-strong group are to be deployed off Sumatra, the area worst hit by Sunday's tsunami. Nine P3C Orion surveillance aircraft, including some based at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, have also been deployed.

Six C130 transport aircraft based out of Japan are being diverted to Thailand to help in relief operations and the first of many C130s has landed in Indonesia. Flying out of Kadena, Japan, it touched down in the Sumatran city of Medan on Thursday with a load of relief supplies and body bags for the estimated 80,000 dead in this country alone.

The aircraft also brought an advance team of about a dozen troops who will assess the situation and determine the logistics needed for the US relief operation.

Along with the airport at Medan, a Thai navy air base used by US B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War is turning into a hub for the US military-led relief effort, which will also include humanitarian operations for Sri Lanka and India. By next week, 1,000 US military personnel will be based there, helping with relief operations.

In Sri Lanka, 26 medical specialists from the Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy arrived yesterday help with efforts to prevent outbreaks of disease in crowded refugee centres.

The US Navy has also answering the call for help by deploying Expeditionary Strike Group 5, based in Guam. The three-ship force, comprising the amphibious assault ships, USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Duluth and USS Rushmore, initially scheduled for R&R, were immediately turned round and despatched to the disaster area.

With a combined crew roster of more than 6,000, this force not only has specialist medical capabilities, including surgical theatres, but also super-lift and medium-lift helicopters that can be used for a variety of missions to include search and rescue as well as transport of relief supplies.

Particularly useful will be the force's Air Cushioned Landing Craft Vehicles (LCAC). These are assault landing craft capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots when carrying a 60-ton payload, which can deliver supplies direct onto otherwise inaccesible beaches.

The force has water-making units that can provide about 50,000 gallons of fresh water each day, and carries all-terrain trucks than can be used to deliver supplies to outlying areas. Its complement of US Marines provide a highly disciplined labour force that can be used to assist hard-pressed civilian authorities, while sailors are able to provide electrical services and welding capabilities. In fact, the whole gamut of supplies and capabilities needed in disaster relief are on these ships.

This is just the immediate US response to the disaster, and much more military equipment is being mobilised, ready for deployment as soon as the assessment reports come in.

And what is the EU doing? Next week, it is hosting a donors' conference. The caterers are on high alert.

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