Minesweeper Copters to Be Sent to Gulf : Departure From U.S. ‘Imminent’; No Oil Convoy Delay Seen
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has ordered the Navy to send eight minesweeping helicopters to the Persian Gulf, where they will operate from a helicopter carrier, Pentagon officials disclosed today.
The order was issued Tuesday night and the departure of the copters from Norfolk, Va., aboard Air Force C-5 transport planes is “imminent,” the sources said.
The development is not expected to delay the departure, anticipated Friday, of a Navy-escorted convoy of tankers from Kuwait.
Under the plan, the helicopters and their support crew of roughly 200 men will be ferried to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, the sources said.
From there, the helicopters will fly out to meet the Guadalcanal, an amphibious landing ship and helicopter carrier participating in routine exercises with a Marine amphibious unit in the Indian Ocean, the sources continued.
The officials, all of whom agreed to discuss the matter only if guaranteed anonymity, refused to say when the Guadalcanal and the huge RH-53D helicopters will reach the Persian Gulf.
‘We Want More Capability’
It will take several days, however, because of the steaming time required for the ship, one said.
“The second convoy operation, at this point, is not being delayed to await these choppers,” another source added. “But we want more capability in the gulf.”
The sources said the tanker Bridgeton, which struck a mine last Friday while under naval escort, will join another tanker, the Gas Prince, for a second convoy, sailing from Kuwait, no later than Friday and possibly by Thursday.
However, shipping sources in Kuwait said that 20-knot winds and nine-foot waves were delaying efforts to load the Bridgeton and that it dropped anchor offshore to await calmer weather.
And U.S. Coast Guard officials said today that they had not yet ruled on the mine-damaged vessel’s seaworthiness. Coast Guard permission is needed for the vessel to return to sea because the Bridgeton is registered in the United States.
Only Four at a Time
One Pentagon official, in discussing the movement of the helicopters, said probably only four of the huge copters would operate off the Guadalcanal at a time.
The decision by Weinberger to order the Guadalcanal to detach itself from the Marine amphibious force and to prepare to take the copters into the Persian Gulf was prompted by the continuing refusal of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to offer land bases for the helicopters.
The sources said the C-5 transport planes, each of which can carry two of the helicopters, will have to fly to Diego Garcia because the United States has failed in efforts to obtain landing rights for the planes in any of the gulf states.
In a related development, West Germany today rejected U.S. requests to send minesweepers to the Persian Gulf to aid U.S. naval convoy operations because its constitution bars sending military forces outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense area.
Col. Horst Prayon, a Defense Ministry spokesman.