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U.S. Aircraft Carrier Keeps Distance From War Games _ For Now

March 14, 1996

ABOARD THE USS INDEPENDENCE (AP) _ For now, this aircraft carrier is maintaining some distance between it and the Chinese war games in the Taiwan Strait.

But, as the ship’s navigator points out, that could change quickly.

``People tend to think of ships as slow and lumbering, but with the power plants we have, we’re pretty fast,″ said Cmdr. Dave Wirt. ```We could get to Taiwan in four hours.″

On the flattop’s huge flight deck Wednesday, a succession of F-14s and F-18s took off on 90-minute flights, practicing air intercepts and bombing runs. Thirteen planes at a time were in the air, with the missions continuing day and night.

China, seeking to intimidate Taiwan in advance of the island’s first direct presidential elections, has been staging elaborate military maneuvers off the island, including a predawn missile launch Wednesday, its second in six days.

With China-Taiwan tensions at their highest level in decades _ Taiwan’s 400,000-member military is on heightened alert _ the USS Independence was sent to its present position, 200 miles off the east coast of Taiwan, to convey a hands-off signal to Beijing.

But USS Independence crew members were trying to put China-Taiwan strains in the backs of their minds and focus on doing their jobs.

``Of course we’re concerned about what is going on around us,″ said senior medical officer Richard Beane. ``But part of our normal routine involves being ready to respond.″

China is staging the exercises in a 6,600-square-mile rectangle that stretches to the mid-point of the Taiwan Strait. The area is 30 to 70 miles from Taiwanese islands.

Rear Adm. James Ellis Jr., commander of the Independence battle group, said its seven ships came to show the U.S. commitment to peace in the region, but none was in the Strait and the group was engaging in ``normal routine operations.″ The carrier was about an hour’s flying time from the site of the maneuvers.

The U.S. military has said the carrier USS Nimitz and its accompanying battle group will cross the Indian Ocean and join the Independence and its battle group off Taiwan by next week. The Nimitz has been on patrol in the Persian Gulf.

The Independence, with a crew of 5,600 and carrying 55 to 70 aircraft, is based at Yokosuka, Japan.

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