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USS Chafee — destroyer with a difference

SPOT ON: An American anti-submarine helicopter, Seahawk, landing on INS Mysore during the second phase of `Malabar 05', an India-U.S. naval exercise in the Arabian Sea, off the Goa coast on Thursday.

SPOT ON: An American anti-submarine helicopter, Seahawk, landing on INS Mysore during the second phase of `Malabar 05', an India-U.S. naval exercise in the Arabian Sea, off the Goa coast on Thursday.  

A `day at sea' for the two navies off Goa for displaying their finest skills in ship handling and seamanship

Arunkumar Bhatt

VASCO DA GAMA (GOA): The Indian and American warships on Thursday took a day off from their ongoing exercise, Malabar 05, to stage a `day at sea' off Goa displaying their finest skills in ship handling and seamanship, one being second to none as guided missile destroyer USS Chafee bared her highly advanced design and equipment to Indians.

USS Chafee that displaces 9200 tonnes is much larger than its Indian counterpart, INS Mysore and like her operates two helicopters, SH-60 Sea Hawk for anti-submarine and surface warfare but she has two Mk-41 Vertical Launching Systems capable of launching a variety of missiles for anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, anti-shipping, self-defence and land strike purposes in fast reaction to multiple threat with concentrated and continuous firepower. The weapons include long-range ground attacking cruise missile, Tomahawk.

INS Mysore (displaces 6,200 tonnes) is yet to be armed with cruise missiles such as Brahmos. The Indian designed and built destroyer does not boast of the Mk-41 VLS but has 16 Uran surface-to-surface missiles, anti-air missiles and torpedoes, showing that she is packed with a stronger punch compared to her size. But the striking difference is the advanced electronics and so many support equipment of the USS Chafee.

"But what we have onboard our warships is enough for our requirements," argues Leading Radio Operator of the Indian Navy, Nilesh Pandey posted on the Chafee to understand the American way of communication. "Our weather conditions and environment do not call for such elaborate protection against wind and waves."

The use of high technology, however, has not diminished the U.S. Navy's trust in old ways of sailing and running a warship — very much like the Indian Navy. So one finds a sailor on the upper deck conveying a message to the Indian fleet replenishment tanker, INS Aditya that had come alongside `to supply' oil and material. "The semaphore is the most reliable way in which we do not break the radio silence so we use it along with satellite communication," chuckles Chief Petty Officer Martin, a cryptologist.

Similarly, lady Quarter Master Tamara Neff uses satellite aided GPS (ground position satellite) for knowing the position of the Chafee and electronic maps to record her course. But this does not mean that she has given up manual tracing of the ship's course and positions on a paper chart, using a sextant, compass and geometry instruments. "Well, the Navy thinks it is good to have the manual back-up in case the equipment fail," she tells The Hindu looking up from her chart table in the bridge, from where the ship is steered and controlled and navigated. The view in the Indian Navy is not different though one does not find a lady at a chart table of `desi' warships.

Of the 283-strong complement of the USS Chafee, 45 are women. Interestingly, they are called female `seaman.' The ship has all the sanitation and living facilities to cater to the needs of the female officers and `men' but otherwise there is no difference. The women do all jobs that the male officers and men do.

An Indian naval captain was especially interested in parallel facilities created onboard for the women in anticipation of the needs of the Indian Navy in near future.

The replenishment at sea (RAS) stole the show of the day. The fleet tanker, INS Aditya moved in for a rendezvous with the warships.

USS Chafee speeded up to go on Aditya's starboard side and adjusted her speed. Soon both ships were charting the same course and making the same speed, maintaining very close distance. Similarly, INS Mysore appeared on Aditya's port side and so did INS Gomati on Mysore's port.

A bullet was fired to extend a line across the Chafee and at its end came a rope. Similarly a hosepipe was extended to give oil. A test weight was launched to pass across another line — it contained Indian snacks (samosa).

While the ships practised replenishment, the aircraft of INS Viraat took off and patrolled the area as an Indian frigate maintained station ahead. Replenishing ships are most vulnerable to enemy attack.

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