USS Intrepid as a Floating Command Post
Congress plans to spend $31 million in FY2005 just to
lay the groundwork to turn the USS Intrepid into a permanent counter terrorism
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.