Surprise find in USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier
THE last place you might expect to find a piece of the Berlin Wall is on an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
But hidden in the middle of the ship, in its own little museum, is a room dedicated to the American president the USS Ronald Reagan was named after. Along with a bronze sculpture of the former army captain sits a piece of the infamous Berlin Wall.
USS Ronald Reagan yesterday hosted Rockhampton media, flown out on a US Navy C-2 Greyhound aircraft that lands at about 250km/h and takes off in a catapult launch going from zero to 205km/hr in about three seconds.
The ship is in Coral Sea waters as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre, a two-yearly exercise with more than 34,000 Australian and US military participants.
It is Australia's largest military exercise with the United States, focusing on mid-intensity, 'high-end' war fighting across various locations around Queensland and New South Wales.
The tour of USS Ronald Reagan included the museum, but the highlight was being on the flight deck to watch a handful of jets - EA-18 G Growlers and FA-18 Super Hornets - take off and land.
USS Ronald Reagan features F-18 Hornets, EA-18 G Growlers, E-2 Hawkeyes, MH-60 R/S Seahawks and C-2 Greyhounds.
The roar of the engines shook bodies as planes sped off the ship, leaving a trail of heat behind them.
Above the flight deck, a handful of people manage and monitor the movement of the planes using what they call a 'ouija board', featuring miniature versions of each aircraft with their call numbers on them, with pieces spread across two levels - one for the flight deck and one for the hangar bays.
Chief Petty Officer Christopher Gibson, who leads the Flight Deck Control team surrounding the ouija board, said the board system was one of the last left in the US Navy with USS Ronald Reagan going digital in the next 12 months.
"In the next five years, this will become obsolete. You will never see this again," he said.
"The younger guys, they won't even know what the ouija board is."
CPO Gibson said all the flight deck crews were 'on the job' trained.
Commander of Taskforce 70 and the man in charge of USS Ronald Reagan and other aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers participating in Talisman Sabre 2019, Rear Admiral Karl Thomas, has been in the job for a year.
"It's been a great exercise for us to be able to operate with one of our closest allies in the region," he said.
"One of the best benefits of the exercise is to operate at a higher level.
"The Australian Air Force and ground force train very similarly to the way we do, as well as their maritime forces.
"So to be able to operate in all the different warfare domains, whether it's the air warfare domain, which obviously we provide a lot off the aircraft carrier, but also undersea domains against submarines, maritime strike domain, the way our ships operate ... the training that we get and the ability to fight is invaluable."
RADM Thomas said this was the type of training the US forces needed to further their skills.
"Today we did a strike launch against some land targets and maritime ships out there playing the bad guy," he said.
RADM Thomas said the training included Australian aircraft on the wings of US craft.
This was RADM Thomas's first Talisman Sabre, despite his career spanning back to 1986.
He said he was in Australia for exercises similar to Talisman Sabre before it became Talisman Sabre as early as 1988.
"For me, it's been my first time to get to operate in Talisman Sabre so it's been a good understanding for my own knowledge and learning in how we are going to work together with Australia," he said.
"In this exercise, we have some of our own forces that will become 'the other side' and that allows us that challenge that you need when you go to do an air-to-air mission or air-to-surface mission."
He said the importance of USS Ronald Reagan being deployed in Japan gives US forces a presence in that region and to be able to get places quickly.
RADM Thomas said USS Ronald Reagan is one of the most capable ships in the region, can move quickly from one exercise to another, allows the crew to cover a lot of ground and work with a lot of allies.
"We have 11 of these aircraft carriers," he said.
"We built the (USS Gerald R) Ford last year, similar but with more modern capabilities - the first overhaul of our aircraft carriers for a long time. We've been operating Nimitz (aircraft carriers) for a long time."
He said the thing that makes an aircraft carrier more modern is the air wing.
"I've seen an awful lot of evolution of the US Navy (since joining in 1986) and just very proud to lead this great team," he said.
RADM Thomas said the average age on the ship was 22 years old.
He said they are "motivated and patriotic".
Of the 5000 personnel on USS Ronald Reagan, about 3000 are ship's company and 1600 are air wing.
USS Ronald Reagan
Displacement: 87,996 tonnes ,920 kilograms with a full load and towering 20 storeys above the waterline
Flight deck area: 1.8has 18,210.9 square metres 1.8ha
Top speed: more than 30 knots (56 km/h)
Cost: $4.5 billion to build and $1 million to fully operate daily ($356million a year)
Weapons: NATO Sea Sparrow Missiles, Rolling Airframe Missiles, guns and electronic warfare
Laundry: About 1150 bags per day
Meals: 15,000 daily, with 205 loaves of bread baked, 100 dozen fresh eggs cooked and 946 litres of milk consumed.
Health Services: Five dentists, an oral surgeon, five physicians and a 63-bed hospital ward
Fitness: There are six gyms on the ship, tucked in among the planes and other items carried on the ship
Personnel: More than 5000 men and women serve on board. Women account for more than 20 per cent of the crew.