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"Gators" manage skies during operation Iraqi freedom.

Northern Australians will tell you that river crocodiles may not be known for flying, but they'll surprise you by how far they can jump from the water into the air if they want something badly enough. After Operation Iraqi Freedom, RAdm. W. Clyde Marsh, Commander Task Force 51, could say the same about his "Gators." The amphibious forces under his command jumped into fleet air defense identification in some new ways to unseat Saddam Hussein's regime. And somewhat like the Australian "jumping crocs," this group of Arabian Gulf Gators had some problems to overcome.

"Operating in the Gulf was complex because of the sheer magnitude of the forces," said Marsh, who led all coalition amphibious forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. "We had over 130 ships, with three aircraft carriers in the northern Arabian Gulf and two in the Mediterranean. That required close coordination, especially with the aircraft."

The numbers of military aircraft in the gulf airspace caused overcrowding in an area the size of New Mexico. Amphibious ships under Task Force 51 brought more than 200 aircraft and the United Kingdom added approximately 75 more. In addition to the planes from the three aircraft carrier wings, there were a number of Air Force flights from nearby U.S. bases and from the United States, as well as commercial flights from the surrounding countries. "And when missiles were launched many of them came through this area," added Marsh. "so everything had to be controlled precisely."

To manage this congestion, three entities were established, named Red Crown, Green Crown and Blue Crown. Red Crown controlled the maritime air space in the northern Arabian Gulf for the carriers' fixed-wing aircraft. Green Crown provided a similar function from the guided missile cruiser Bunker Hill (CG 52). Blue Crown established an area that covered the United Kingdom coalition amphibious forces operating close to the beach. It provided air coverage so that anything flying in the area could be identified, classified and processed.

The "crown" assignments marked a first for amphibious forces at a task-force level. Traditionally, Aegis-class cruisers provided fleet air defense identification for large Navy surface groups. However, during this operation, Bunker Hill and other cruisers were heavily tasked with strike missions, escort duties and maritime interdiction operations.

To allow the cruisers to perform these duties, Navy leaders found an alternative in the Gator Navy.

For approximately two months starting in mid-March, the Blue and Green Crown assignments rotated between Tarawa (LHA 1), Boxer (LHA 4) and Saipan (LHA 2). During the peak of air operations against Iraq, personnel associated with fleet air defense identification on these amphibious assault ships took on expanded responsibilities. The tactical air control squadrons, combat information centers and helicopter direction centers pooled their capabilities to defend approximately 30 U.S. and coalition amphibious ships in the northern Arabian Gulf.

"We saw from 500 to 600 sorties a day within the amphibious airspace for which Green Crown was responsible," said LCdr. Kailin Wilson, air defense coordinator for Tactical Air Control Squadron 12 embarked on Tarawa.

Green and Blue Crown covered a 1,600-mile area from the southern border of Kuwait across the northern Arabian Gulf to Iran and everything north of that. This umbrella of air defense identification extended into Iraq, and supported Marine AV-8B Harrier II jets and helicopters, which in turn supported Marines battling toward Baghdad along the Tigris River valley.

For the Green and Blue Crown operations, a measure of success came in a color-coded term: zero "blue-on-blue" engagements.

"There were no incidents in which any coalition ships in the Arabian Gulf shot down or killed a friendly aircraft," said Wilson. "We're proud to say that the measures we put in place allowed us to identify contacts before we got to the point where we had to engage them. We didn't lose a single person."

By JOC William Poison, Tarawa (LHA 1) PAO
COPYRIGHT 2003 Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center
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Author:Polson, William
Publication:Naval Aviation News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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