Originally created 02/04/03

Third aircraft carrier now within striking distance of Iraq



WASHINGTON -- A third U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is now within striking distance of Iraq, joining the USS Constellation and the USS Harry S. Truman, and a fourth will head there soon, defense officials said Monday.

The USS Abraham Lincoln, which had been holding in waters off Australia last month, re-entered the Arabian Sea over the weekend, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. It departed Perth, Australia on Jan. 20 after receiving orders to head back to the Persian Gulf instead of going to its home port at Everett, Wash.

With a possible war against Iraq looming, the Lincoln is in the unusual situation of extending its time at sea indefinitely. It completed its normal six-month deployment in January and was due to return from the Gulf to its home port at Everett, Wash. Instead it was ordered to hold in the western Pacific and await further instructions.

The Lincoln is the only carrier with a squadron of the Navy's newest fighter-bombers, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, which has greater range than the older Hornets. Its air wing includes more than 80 attack and support planes.

The Constellation took the Lincoln's place in the Gulf in mid-December and is still there.

The Truman is in the eastern Mediterranean.

A fourth carrier, the Norfolk, Va.-based USS Theodore Roosevelt, is wrapping up pre-deployment training off the East Coast of the United States and is likely to head toward the Gulf within several days, one defense official said.

The Navy is prepared to send a fifth carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, which is based at Yokosuka, Japan. If it goes, it likely would be replaced in the Pacific by the USS Carl Vinson, officials say.