3small25USS Intrepid as a Floating Command Post


Gerard P. Keenan

Congress plans to spend $31 million in FY2005 just to lay the groundwork to turn the USS Intrepid into a permanent counter terrorism command post.

This was made public in the Congress Daily PM on 09 December 2004. Now terrorists have a new stationary target that, if hit, will severely cripple counter terrorism efforts in the whole Metropolitan area.

Sitting at the pier the Intrepid is vulnerable to at least three separate methods of attack.

One, obviously, is an aerial attack like 9/11. Since Intrepid presents a small target only a small plane packed with explosives would be needed to completely take out the ship and the pier – and much of the surrounding area. Loss of life would be high. There would also be the total loss of counter terrorism capabilities for much of the NY Metro area leaving the way open for small, follow-on attacks by small groups and/or individual suicide bombers around the area while there is total confusion.

Many will say this could never happen; but no one believed the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon could ever happen, either.

The second vulnerability is from shore side. It is simple to pack a car, van, or small truck with explosives and crash through the barriers. Then crash the vehicle into the new 100,000 square foot office and communications center on the pier and detonate it. While not as lethal as an aerial attack, it would still result in considerable loss of life and disruption of counter terrorism capabilities.

There is also the second vehicle bomb option of driving straight at the carrier, hitting it amidships, and detonating the bomb “on the fly”. If enough explosives are

packed into a large enough vehicle, the result would be devastating. With a large enough breach in her hull Intrepid would begin to sink almost immediately, tearing herself loose from her moorings as well as all her shore hook-ups – landlines, electrical power, communications, water and fuel lines, etc.

The water pouring through the breach would drown anyone who survived the blast.

The ship will be filled with computers, countless electronic devices, and probably a number of back-up generators that would kick in as soon as the electrical connections to shore are severed. With this back-up power running, and tons of water pouring in, fires would quickly break out and spread rapidly. In about 30-60 minutes the ship would be sitting on the bottom and everything above the water line would be in flames. Loss of life would be considerable and command, control and coordination would be completely shut down.

Casualties will be much higher than they would otherwise be because the ship will be manned almost entirely civilians – the vast majority of whom will have no naval experience at all and, therefore, will know nothing about water-tight doors, shipboard firefighting, damage control parties, or any of the other skills necessary for survival at sea aboard a burning, sinking ship.

The third vehicle option is to use two vehicle bombs simultaneously against both the office and communications building and the ship.

Then there is the third vulnerability – one that has been in the news quite a bit lately. This is an attack by sea. It is no secret that Al-Qaeda has a “navy” – a fleet of a dozen or more tankers, most of which no one seems to be able to locate.

One of these tankers filled with oil and rigged with explosives could very easily take out the Intrepid and everything around it – including the pier and the new office and communications building.

Recent government and private reports have all indicated that our nation’s sea ports are more vulnerable than most any other target in the country.

In an article on 26 December 2004 in the Daily Press, Coast Guard and Navy officials said that a 60,000 ton tanker moving up the Norfolk ship channel would need only three minutes to veer off course and crash into one of the carriers at Norfolk Naval Station. The Hudson River is not much wider than the Norfolk Channel and a tanker would not need more than five minutes to accomplish the same thing.

NYPD and Coast Guard patrol craft are lightly armed. Against a 60,000 ton tanker it would be like our troops in the Battle of the Bulge trying to stop divisions of Panzers with M-1 rifles – valiant but futile.

If a boarding party does get aboard, the terrorists could easily detonate the tanker immediately. They are on a suicide mission to start with, after all, so there is nothing to prevent them from going to “Paradise” a little early – especially if they feel threatened or the target is not attainable.

Even if the boarding party is lucky enough to reach the bridge and kill everyone on it before they can detonate, stopping one of those behemoths is not an easy task once they are underway. To maximize impact the terrorists would have increased speed once they changed course and, in all likelihood, there will be a second means of detonation that would detonate on contact.

So how do we protect the Intrepid and its civilian personnel while maintaining command, control and communications? Simple. So simple it is not surprising that Congress has not considered it or, if it has, has simply rejected it out of hand.

Make the Intrepid seaworthy. Not up to Navy combat standards – just to the same standards as any merchant or cruise ship. After all, it will not going into combat, will not

be re-commissioned back into the fleet, and it will not even have to leave US territorial waters.

The cost for refit and upgrade would undoubtedly be much less than the final cost of rebuilding and repairing Pier 86 (a good part of which has already been condemned by the city and put off limits to visitors), building the new buildings and purchasing and installing all the latest sophisticated communications and electronics equipment. Leases for landlines, the cost of electricity from shore and the cost of water from the city will add still more to ongoing costs. The $31 million Congress has authorized is only to lay the groundwork for this project – completion will run into many millions more and could take several years.

Making the Intrepid seaworthy would take less time could reduce the final cost by millions.

Command and control could also be maintained from just a few miles offshore. Only a small Navy crew would be needed to sail and maintain the ship while she conducts her operations and missions uninterrupted.

With today’s latest technology Intrepid can carry out her missions regardless of location. In deference to the civilians that would make up all of the operational personnel

and most of the support personnel, Intrepid would not have to remain at sea more than a few days at a time. She could also sail up and down the East Coast, pulling into different ports for a few days at a time. This would in no way affect its operations or mission, but would make it more difficult for terrorists to locate her. Intrepid’s time at sea, in port in NYC, and visits to other ports would be staggered so as not to set any kind of pattern – further increasing the difficulty in locating her.

Only those who need to know would have knowledge of the ship’s location at any given time. It would not even have to sail the coast. It could simply cruise off NY for a few days, then return to port for a few days. It could be refueled and resupplied at sea from Navy tankers and supply ships.

A squadron of three or four helicopters could also be assigned for emergencies, medevacs, personnel transfers, etc.

This scenario would provide increased security in many ways.

It would greatly reduce the possibility of vehicle bombs because the ship would not be sitting at a pier 24/7. It would reduce the possibility of an aerial attack for the same reason, and to attack it at sea the terrorists would have to find it first. Additional security, in the event a small plane does get lucky enough to locate her, could be provided by a

couple of SAM batteries on board; or even a helo gun ship or two. Being hit by a tanker would also be extremely unlikely because it will not be a sitting target and, at sea, she would again have to be found first.

The benefits of vastly increased security and the ability to provide and maintain command and control during another 9/11, or natural disaster, can not be overstated.

The drawbacks, of course, are mainly political. The various agencies of the federal, state and city governments that would be accommodated on Intrepid would undoubtedly be locked in a battle to determine who has operational control of her.

The main drawback to this scheme, though, is the inevitable opposition from the private owners of the Sea-air-Space Museum. This is a major hurdle that must be overcome before anything else can be done

The idea of a sea-going command post is viable, cost-effective, and very doable. If the Intrepid hurdle can not be surmounted, it would be worth looking into the possible use of one of the more recently decommissioned carriers, like the Saratoga, Forrestal, America, et. al. They are all conventionally powered, are at least twice the size of the Intrepid, and faster, and are still seaworthy; and they can also navigate the East River.

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