Fighter jets and machine gun fire in the South China Sea


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Fighter jets and machine gun fire in the South China Sea
Text, photos and videos by Zan Azlee

I was never told where I would be taken to. The only instructions I received was to arrive on time in the morning in front of the McDonald’s in Subang Airport. And so I was there on time.

Several Americans were there, a few in military garb and the rest in civilian clothes. They greeted me and said that we will be boarding a United States Navy C-2 Greyhound aircraft.

We were going to visit the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier ship, that is somewhere in the ocean (I would later find out we were at the South China Sea).

Before boarding, several navy personnel told me to put on a helmet, earmuffs, goggles and a life vest. It was cumbersome. I fumbled. They were forced to help me.

I took a selfie photo and the image that appeared in my smart phone after I pressed the button was a Malay guy that looked uncannily like Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun.

After about an hour flying in the air, one of the navy men stood up and briefed us on the landing. It was going to be a hard impact when we reach the supercarrier.

It would be an arrested landing where a hook on the aircraft will latch on to a cable on the ship so we wouldn’t go flying off the other side and into the sea.

“Once everyone is strapped nice and tight, you will hear us yelling ‘Here we go! Here we go!”. Brace yourself right at that point,” he said.

Before I knew it, they were already screaming at the top of their lungs. I scrambled to make sure that the straps over my shoulders and waist were tight.

I held on to my helmet tight and there was a bang and I was jolted back in my seat. We had landed. We went from 250 km/h to a halt in 2 seconds. I thought I had swallowed my tongue.

I was on the USS Carl Vinson.

Viewing the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier, from the bridge.

Viewing the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier, from the bridge.

The floating city

Although I have covered conflict, war and other military events extensively during my carrier, I had never been on a Nimitz-class supercarrier before. I was excited.

We were greeted by Commanding Officer Capt. Karl O. Thomas and he explained that we are now on a floating city that has it’s own entire ecosystem.

“We have over 5000 personnel that works the ship. We serve over 15,000 meals a day and produce over 400,000 gallons of water,” he smiled.

The USS Carl Vinson also has 63 aircraft on board and it ranges from fighter jets, reconnaissance aircraft, helicopters and transport planes.

And one of the key aircraft that calls the supercarrier home is the F18 Super Hornet. It may be possible to describe it all in words, but I feel it best to have a video so you can watch it.

US Navy pilots manning their F18 Super Hornets.

US Navy pilots manning their F18 Super Hornets.

7th Fleet and the Middle East

The USS Carl Vinson has a very deep history. Christened in 1979, it has been in most of the modern conflicts around the world involving the United States. 

It’s most recent deployment was with the 5th Fleet in Arabian Gulf  where they flew combat and reconnaissance missions against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

“We flew strike missions supporting the people of Iraq on the ground as they try to reclaim their country. Certainly trying to remove IS and stifle their desire to create a Caliphate,” said Thomas.

They flew numerous missions into Iraq and Syria and dropped about a third of the ammunitions that were dropped into the two countries against IS.

“I don’t have a number of how many missions we flew. But we flew a lot!” said US Navy pilot Mike (a pseudonym).

“We launched about 20 to 25 combat missions into Syria and Iraq everyday,” explained Lt. Cmdr Kyle Raines.

He also added that a bulk of the missions flying in were also reconnaissance missions whereby they went in to observe and collect data to be brought back and analysed.

The USS Carl Vinson was also the ship that had the responsibility to lay the body of Osama Bin Laden to rest in the ocean with full Islamic rites.

A Sea Hawk helicopter hovering over the South China Sea.

A Sea Hawk helicopter hovering over the South China Sea.

Currently, USS Carl Vinson is in the Asia-Pacific region because it’s latest deployment has been with the 7th Fleet, responsible for patrolling and securing this region.

Aside from being in the 7th Fleet, they are also working closely with partner nations doing exercises and sharing knowledge to strengthen relationships.

“Malaysia is one of them. So is Singapore, the Philippines and Japan. A lot of the nations we rely on and we work closely with to improve the maritime security,” explained Thomas.

A cluster of fighter jets waiting to take-off on the USS Carl Vinson.

A cluster of fighter jets waiting to take-off on the USS Carl Vinson.

Catapult-assisted take-off

It was finally time to go and I felt that there was more to explore on the USS Carl Vinson. I was particularly interested to see how everyday life is like on board.

But a few hours on the ship is just not adequate enough to get a proper observation of the personnel’s life on deployment. Maybe next time.

So we were again, herded into the C-2 Greyhound aircraft and this time we were briefed that the take-off is going to be way tougher than the landing.

Because of the short runway on the carrier, the plane would need a catapult-assisted take-off and we would accelerate from 0 to 205 km/h in three seconds.

Again, I had to put on the helmet, earmuffs, goggles and life vest that me look so much like Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun, and strap myself nice and snug in the seat.

Then we heard “Here we go! Here we go! Here we go!”, we were jolted and I felt my eyeballs leave their sockets, hit the back of the seat in front of me, and reentered the sockets.

We were back in the air flying across the South China Sea on the way home.

 

[This article originally appeared at English.AstroAwani.Com]

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