The HMS Ark Royal has been converted from carrying a squadron of Sea Harriers to a floating helicopter platform (like the HMS Ocean), with up to 40 Chinook and Sea King helicopters to help ferry troops. The Ark Royal will be joined in the Mediterranean Sea by 14 more vessels before heading to the Persian Gulf. Operation "Flying Fish" will be the Royal Navy's largest amphibious task force in two decades. A nuke-powered T-class sub armed with cruise missiles rounds out the fleet. And a squadron of RAF Tornado and Jaguar jets will go to boost patrols over Iraqs no-fly zone. The flotilla is later scheduled to head to Southeast Asia to take part in exercises with Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. Don't hold your breath waiting for this to happen, though.
These new troops will need two to four weeks in the theater to acclimatize, desertize their tanks and conduct live-firing exercises. The 7th Armored's 114 Challenger 2 tanks and scores of Warrior fighting vehicles will need some time to be fitted with the right sand filters. During Desert Storm, it took up to 10 days of all-out effort by crews and mechanics to prepare each 57-tank Armor Regiment for desert conditions.
Britain has more than 4,000 troops serving in NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Bosnia, so NATO is preparing to back-fill gaps left by British troops being shifted from the Balkans to the Gulf region. NATO has 28,000 soldiers in Kosovo and a further 12,000 in Bosnia, but the alliance discussed the possibility of cutting the mission by half in Kosovo and to 7,000 in Bosnia.
Half a world away, Australian SAS troops are also preparing for action in Iraq. At the remote Lancelin bombing range 100km north of Perth, these commandos were practicing Call-for-Fire missions with FA-18 Super Hornet attack jets from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, moored off Fremantle. The Abraham Lincoln air group commander said that the SAS troops were acting as forward air controllers and taking part in low-flying, night search and rescue training. All leave has been canceled for SAS soldiers and about 150 will be sent to Iraq as a first contingent, in the event of war.
Doctors at Melbourne and Sydney sperm banks have been approached by SAS soldiers asking that their sperm be frozen ahead of expectations they will be soon deployed to the Middle East. This is a logical move for any man who wants to have children, since Desert Storm veterans exposed to Iraqi chemicals have had serious problems. Mustard gas (which Iraq has used before) is a mutagen that caused documented birth defects in the years after World War One. - Adam Geibel
The United Kingdom will commit 25,000 troops to the Allied buildup around Iraq. About 7,000 troops from the 1st Armored Division and another 7,000 from the 16th Air Assault Brigade are moving towards the theater, along with 5,000 Royal Navy sailors and 3,000 RAF personnel.
American and British warplanes bombed an Iraqi air defense communications facilities in southern Iraq after the Iraqis fired on the patrolling aircraft. The targets consisted of eight cable repeaters for Iraq's new, Chinese built, fiber optics communications system.