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‘Fleet Command’: War as a Rehearsal

War games aren’t war and they certainly aren’t games. So what are they?

For an answer, and a great deal more, consider an engaging, beautifully photographed documentary, “Fleet Command,” airing Sunday on the Discovery Channel.

With help from the Navy, nine film crews followed RIMPAC ’96 off Hawaii, a 10-day dress rehearsal for war involving 40 warships, 300 combat planes and 30,000 personnel from the U.S. and five Pacific Rim allies.

“Fleet Command” is an inside look at the intricacies of that largest-ever exercise, with low-key narration by Charlton Heston. The same company produced the acclaimed “Carrier: Fortress at Sea.”

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This is not an analysis of which weapon systems are boondoggles or whether the U.S. has the right attitude toward Saddam Hussein or should chill out. But it’s worthwhile if you’re interested in how young Americans are being trained to fight, and in how and where the American military thinks the next skirmish may occur.

The film crews are ever-present, from a nuclear-power submarine to an F-18 overhead to Marines hunkered down ashore. The result is a detailed, briskly paced work, a good mix of narration and interviews, the big picture and the little picture.

“Fleet Command” proves anew that fighting wars is the duty of the young.

“Two years ago, you wouldn’t trust these kids with the keys to the family car,” says Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher. “Now they’re entrusted with $40-million planes and they make a complex operation where 30,000 people must do everything in time and in sequence and together. And they do it all.”

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* “Fleet Command” airs 9-11 p.m. Sunday on cable’s Discovery Channel. The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).


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