– Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and several other U.S. Navy ships to the Republic of the Philippines today, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
Hagel directed the vessels “to make best speed” to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster support, Little said, following a devastating typhoon that left thousands dead.
They are expected to arrive on station within the next 48 to 72 hours, he said.
USS George Washington, which carries 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft, is currently in Hong Kong for a port visit, Little reported. The crew is being recalled early from shore leave and the ship is expected to be underway later this evening.
The cruisers USS Antietam and USS Cowpens and the destroyer USS Mustin will accompany the carrier, Little said.
Meanwhile, supply ship USNS Charles Drew already is underway and will rendezvous with the group en route to the Philippines. In addition, USS Lassen got underway yesterday for the region, Little said.
Carrier Air Wing Five, embarked aboard USS George Washington, includes an array of aircraft designed to perform disaster relief as well as other functions, Little noted. Among its assets are the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12, which fly MH-60 Seahawk aircraft; and the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 77 that fly the MH-60R Seahawk.
These ships and aircraft will be able to provide humanitarian assistance, supplies and medical care, as needed, to support ongoing efforts led by the Philippines’ government and military, Little said.
The Defense Department is continuing to work closely with the Philippine government to determine what, if any, additional assets may be required, he said.
About 90 U.S. Marines and sailors already are on the ground in the Philippines, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster support.
Members of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade deployed yesterday from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Japan, with two KC-130J Hercules aircraft from 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, reported Marine Col. John M. Peck, the 3rd MEB chief of staff.
A forward command element and humanitarian assistance survey team also is deploying to the Philippines from Okinawa to provide an initial assessment on the support required. Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, deputy commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force and the commanding general of the 3rd MEB, will lead that team.
The initial focus of U.S. relief efforts includes surface and airborne maritime search and rescue, medium-heavy helicopter lift support, fixed-wing lift support and logistics enablers.
This includes requests for the Marine Corps’ KC-130 cargo aircraft and MV-22 osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The MV-22 provides a unique capability and is ideal in this type of operation, officials noted. With its vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, it can operate in austere environments. Its ability to convert quickly to fixed-wing configuration gives it greatly increased speed and range over traditional rotary wing aircraft, they said.
Super Typhoon Haiyan has impacted more than 4.2 million people across 36 provinces in the Philippines, according to the Philippine government’s national disaster risk reduction and management council. More details about casualties and damage are expected in the coming days as transportation and communications systems are repaired.