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Reporter’s Notebook: Aboard the USS Dwight D Eisenhower in the Red Sea: ‘Constant self-defense’

It’s the dark of night, the middle of the Red Sea, but it’s not quiet. The whine of several F-18 super hornet fighter jets produce an ear-splitting sound on the deck of the USS Dwight D Eisenhower. 

In bright primary-colored shirts, sailors on the flight deck tend to their specific jobs. The munitions officers, in red shirts, flip a switch that engages the sidewinder missiles on the outside of the fighter jet’s wings. It’s like taking the safety off your gun. The missiles are now ready to be fired. The pilot inches his jet forward so catapult officers can hook the tow-bar on his front wheel to the shuttle which runs down a steaming slot to the end of the flight deck.  

Through a series of hand signals, a deck officer with yellow flashlights tells the pilot it’s time. He throttles the jet engines to full power and everyone’s rib cages shake on deck. An officer with the title shooter triggers the catapult and with a mighty roar the super hornet is launched into combat over the Red Sea.

Each takeoff is a launch into combat. Everything happens in the ‘weapons engagement zone,’ close enough to Houthi controlled Yemen that they are in range of hostile fire.  

‘We are in constant self-defense out here when it comes to threats that can be shot at us,’ says Rear Admiral Marc Miguez, commander of the strike group. 

Self-defense does not mean they don’t go on the offensive. Often times, the F-18s launch with a planned target. Captain Marvin Scott, commander of the air wing on the carrier says his pilots have already degraded the ability of the Houthis to fire at cargo ships and warships crossing the Red Sea. ‘By targeting their ability to see us, their surveillance radars, and now we’re primarily focused on their military capabilities,’ he says.

Many of the targets are ‘dynamic targets’, something that presents itself after the F-18 is in the air. U.S. Central Command says on Thursday U.S. forces struck four drones and two anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch. On Friday, they shot down three drones near commercial ships in the Red Sea.  

The threats are constant and while the sailors have proven to be effective at shooting missiles out of the sky, it’s not an easy task and failure is not an option. ‘We have to be right 100% of the time and they only have to be right once,’ says Miguez.

The USS Eisenhower is one of six ships in strike group two. One of them is a cruiser, the USS Philippine Sea. It serves as a sentinel for the strike group, with layers of sailors who monitor high-tech electronics that detect incoming threats. In a matter of seconds, the ‘watchstanders’ determine the nature of the threat and how to respond. 

‘It just depends what the threat is and what’s coming at us,’ Says Captain Steve Liberty who defined what his ship is ready for, ‘Anything they can throw our way,’ he says.

In the end, their mission is as old as the Navy itself. Protecting safe maritime trade is the reason the Navy was created in the first place. ‘Freedom of Navigation,’ Says Captain Chris Hill, Commander of the Dwight D Eisenhower, ‘It’s something we’ve been doing since 1775, and it’s something we’re really good at.’

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS

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