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ASSOCIATED PRESS NEWSWIRES
Questions & Answers:
Why The Navy Considers It Important To Drop Live Bombs On Vieques
by Robert Burns
December 4, 1999
Copyright © 1999 ASSOCIATED PRESS NEWSWIRES. All Rights Reserved.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Here are some questions and answers to explain
why the Navy considers it so important to drop live bombs, artillery
shells and missiles on Vieques over the vehement objections of
Puerto Ricans .
Q. Why can't the Navy do its bomb
training somewhere else?
A. This is at the heart
of the controversy. The Navy says it has looked hard and can find
no other place along the Atlantic Coast where it can bring naval
and Marine forces together for realistic combat training using
live ammunition. It has used Vieques since World War II, but after
an errant bomb killed a Puerto Rican security guard last April,
the Navy suspended training on the island.
Q. What is wrong with using dummy
bombs, instead of real ones?
A. Dummy, or "inert,"
bombs are used - with sand or concrete inside the casing instead
of explosives. But the Navy insists there is no adequate alternative
to using at least some real bombs as part of the training that
sailors and Marines get before heading overseas in aircraft carrier
Q. What is so special about live
A. In the Navy's view,
two things: those who assemble, load and arm the bombs and shells
fired from naval aircraft and ships need to practice with the
real thing or risk losing their edge; and the Marines who storm
ashore in coordination with aerial bombing and Navy shipboard
gunfire need to experience the sound and fury of real weapons
in order to be fully prepared for combat they may face later.
"The use of live ordnance in training rivets the attention
of those who manage, handle and employ it with a combination of
fear and reverence that inert ordnance cannot convey," the
Navy wrote in a July report that laid out its rationale for insisting
that sailors and Marines keep training on Vieques .
Q. Why not do this training after
a battle group arrives on station abroad instead of before it
A. That is a possibility,
but not one U.S. military leaders like. The Navy, Marine Corps
and other services pride themselves on knowing that troops sent
abroad are combat-ready. This is important, they say, because
units sometimes are called on to fight immediately upon their
That was true with two of the last three carrier battle groups
deployed from the East Coast.
In the early days of NATO's air war over Kosovo, the USS Theodore
Roosevelt and its battle group crossed the Atlantic at high speed
to the Adriatic Sea in spring to relieve the USS Enterprise battle
group. The Roosevelt began combat operations shortly after arrival.
The Enterprise group had begun its deployment in the Persian Gulf,
where it, too, began operations soon after arrival. Both carriers'
air wings had prior live-fire training at Vieques .
"To provide our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen
with less than this optimum training in the future would be unconscionable,
cause undue casualties and place our nation's vital interests
at risk," Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the top NATO commander,
wrote in August in arguing for resuming training on Vieques .
Q. Isn't this just a Navy problem?
A. It is mainly a Navy
problem, but some in the Pentagon believe the Vieques episode
could have far-reaching consequences for the entire armed forces.
They fear that U.S. access to training grounds in other countries
could be in jeopardy if the Puerto Rican example of civil protest
is repeated elsewhere.
Navy Adm. Jay L. Johnson, the chief of naval operations, and
the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James L. Jones, wrote about
this in a joint statement after a presidential panel recommended
in October that the Navy get out of Vieques within five years.
"Our friends and allies also have interest groups that
would prefer that these activities not take place near their communities,"
Johnson and Jones wrote. "The `not-in-my-backyard' movement
is a phenomenon that, if it succeeds at home, could greatly undermine
training opportunities abroad."