Iran: US Carrier's Hornets Set To Sting

Stuart Ramsay, Chief Correspondent

From the deck of one the largest, most powerful warships in the world, the attack jets of the most powerful country in the world take to the skies above the Arabian Gulf.

The missions from the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, a Nimitz class carrier, are an almost bone-shudderingly loud constant.

The jets, 44 in total, scream into the skies across the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan day and night.

But we are just 80 miles south of Iran, and Carrier Strike Group 8 knows its next biggest task could involve Iran, shipping lanes and keeping the world's oil supplies moving.

Led by the Eisenhower, the Strike Group spends at least half its time in the Gulf.

Iran has threatened to respond to attacks from Israel, or anyone else for that matter, by closing the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which 20% of the world's oil is shipped.

The man commanding the Strike Group, Rear Admiral Michael Manazir, says he does not plan for the unilateral action of any country within his area of operations, but concedes that Iran is a problem he may have to deal with.

He said: "Our presence ensures that economic prosperity can be enjoyed by those who want to use the Strait for economics, for oil transit, for any imports that are coming in.

"Our presence actually ensures that stability against any country that would want to close the Strait."

The Group uses helicopters and jets to watch for Iranian ships attempting to place mines or threaten oil-related assets.

The admiral revealed his vessels are in daily contact with their Iranian counterparts. "Like you I have read about our apparent poor relations," Admiral Manazir told Sky.

"But we actually have daily professional interactions with Iran. This is a stable relationship for now."

They are hardly leaving anything to chance. Battle drills are a regular feature of everyday life.

Fearing an attack from Iran's Revolutionary Guards' much-publicised flotilla of fast speedboats, the crew aboard the Eisenhower practise for multiple attacks and casualties.

Some of the 14 decks of the ship are filled with fake smoke to simulate the attack, while the four acres of the flight deck practise emergency procedures.

"What that first attack will be I don't predict," says the ship's commanding officer, Captain Marcus Hitchcock.

"But I do posture myself to be prepared to repulse any attack and to continue our mission whatever that may be."

An Israeli attack on Iran or an Iranian intervention in the Gulf would likely escalate instantaneously an already, at times, tense situation.

The Strike Group has been deployed for the longest planned mission in a decade. Nine months they will be on station, and it could be a very busy posting for all involved.