U.S. Carriers' Warplanes Conducting Fighter Missions Over Gulf EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story is based on a pool report from aboard the U.S.S. Independence.

ABOARD THE USS INDEPENDENCE IN THE GULF OF OMAN (AP) _ Warplanes from the Carrier USS Independence have been conducting fighter missions over the Persian Gulf nightly since a few days after Iraq's takeover of Kuwait.

The Independence, accompanied by six ships, reached the area Aug. 5, three days after the invasion, after breaking off drills at Diego Garcia, 2,500 miles south.

Before visiting the Independence, a U.S. Department of Defense regional media pool was aboard the USS La Salle, flagship of the Joint Task Force Middle East, in the Gulf.

Rear Adm. William M. Fogarty, commander of U.S. forces in the Gulf, said in a briefing that U.S. forces rushed to the region since the invasion are equipped with protective suits, masks and antidotes in case of an Iraqi chemical weapons attack.

Asked if he was worried about chemical weapons, Fogarty said: ''The fact that they do have chemical weapons is disturbing to everybody throughout the world, but we are a trained force, if they happen to employ them.''

On the Independence, Rear Adm. Jerry L. Unruh, commander of Battle Group Delta, said the battle group's ships also were equipped to deal with a chemical attack, but that chances of such an attack were ''very, very slim.''

Fogarty described the Persian Gulf as ''a tough environment'' because of the high heat and humidity, especially in the summer. But but said: ''Our forces have met this challenge.''

He said he would not characterize the Iraqi Air Force as weak, but added, ''I'll tell you, we're better, that I know.''

Capt. Robert Ellis, commander of the Independence, said his crew averaged 18-20 years old and most were on their first deployment. There are 5,000 people on board the Independence.

''For a lot of young people this is their first time away from home and they are facing these unknowns for the first time,'' he said.

Capt. Jay B. Yakeley III, commander of Navy Air Wing 14 aboard the Independence, said his pilots had had ''no close encounters'' and had not sighted any Iraqi aircraft.

''Many of them are combat-tested against Iran, we know that. We know the type of training they have. They probably have some real good pilots and some that are not so good.''

In interviews, several pilots said they were aware that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's air force had many pilots with recent combat experience in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and said they were somewhat familiar with the French-built F-1 Mirages flown by Iraq.

But they said they were more concerned about the threat of surface-to-air missles than engaging in aerial combat with the Iraqis.

The pilots expressed confidence that despite their own lack of combat experience, their training and superiority of U.S. aircraft gave them confidence.

''We all feel as if we're ready for it'' said one 23-year-old ensign who flies the F-18.

''Any fighter pilot here feels that he can carry out his mission better than any Third World nation pilot,'' said another ensign.

Asked whether American pilots were eager to get into a fight, he said: ''We're not warmongers out here but we're ready for action and we want to put our training to good use.''

Fogarty, who is in overall command of the U.S. forces in the Gulf and the north Arabian and Red Seas, answers to Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf III, commander in chief of central command.

He said the military's mission was ''to defend against an Iraqi attack against Saudi Arabia and to be prepared to conduct other operations as directed.''

He said no decision had been made on command structure of the multinational force, but that the structure ''is being put into force right now. It is being worked on, it is a matter or coordination and communications.''

He refused to say whether U.S. forces would be subordinate to any non- American commanders.

Fogarty said he had no intelligence at the time of the briefing to back up a report by diplomatic sources in Riyadh that Saudi gunners had fired on two Iraqi reconnaissance planes near Khafji on Sunday.

The media pool then flew to the Independence, where another briefing was held by Unruh. He was asked whether the Navy had interdicted any oil shipping leaving Iraq or occupied Kuwait.

''We have been given no directive to stop any shipping. We are not on a blockade mission,'' he said. But he said he thought the Iraqi oil flow ''had pretty much dried up.'' Turkey last week shut off its oil pipeline, one of three primary outlets used by the Iraqis.

The 31-year-old, 80,000-ton ''Indy'' carries 60 to 70 aircraft made up of seevn types: two F-14 squadrons, two squadrons of the F-18 Hornet and one of the A-6E intruder, EA-6E Prowler Electronics Countermeasures Plants, E-2C Hawkeye AWACS, S-3A Vicking anti-submarine patrol planes and SH-3 Sea King helicopters.

The F-14 Fighter Gap Missions over the Gulf are to protect the U.S. Naval Force in the waterway, now totaling nine ships, and to respond to other missions as ordered, officers said.

A surface warfare officer in the carrier's combat information center said the Iranians were putting out P-3 Orion surveillance plances in the area, ''But they don't get too close. They are very friendly. We talk to them and they talk to us.''

The F-14s, equipped with three kinds of air-to-air missiles, including the highly classified Phoenix, which can hit an opponent at ''long distance,'' can perform four-hour missions and stay aloft ''indefinitely'' with the support of Air Forces KC-135 and KC-10 tanker planes in Saudi Arabia, Yakeley said.

The mood of the men aboard the Independence was one of anticipation that they were about to be part of an important event.

''They are glad that their country has made this commitment and that they're the ones who were picked to be out here on the front line,'' said one officer.