The USS Daniel Inouye, a Pearl Harbor warship named after the late war hero and Hawaii senator, is preparing for its first-ever deployment amid geopolitical tensions. For the crew comprising 320 sailors, it is more than just sailing on a vessel via the Pacific. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer’s namesake is a figure that looms large in the history of Hawaii.
Inouye lost an arm while fighting against the Nazis as a member of the 442nd Infantry Regiment of the Army — for which he later received the Medal of Honour — before taking on a career in politics that would be shaping the future of the islands and also make him an undeniable force in the American national politics. Over a decade since his death, the man’s legacy has touched almost all aspects of life in Hawaii.
The construction of the 509-foot USS Daniel Inouye started back in 2018. The vessel was christened in 2019 at Maine’s Bath Iron Works. Before setting sail for Hawaii, the Inouye family Bible and many other heirlooms gifted by the family had been placed in a box on the warship. But it took longer than expected for the USS Daniel Inouye to reach Hawaii.
Construction of the $1.5 billion vessel encountered many setbacks, including a COVID-19 pandemic-induced, unforeseen slowdown in shipbuilding across the country and a nine-week strike enforced by the Bath Iron Works employees in 2020. Following sea trials in the northern Atlantic in 2020 (December), the vessel reached the Honolulu home port in 2021 (November) and was officially commissioned on 8 December 2021.
The vessel has since made its way around the islands, with crew members participating in community and outreach service assignments. Parts of the vessel have served as exclusive sets for the episodes of NCIS: Hawaii.
In March 2023, during an exercise carried out off Kauai, the Inouye deployed its Aegis missile defence system to intercept a ballistic missile. And in Pearl Harbor, the crew members have been undertaking regular maintenance tasks and training to prepare for a successful deployment.
Firefighting drills are also frequent. Even though the crew has sailors trained for firefighting, Dore explained that during any deployment, each sailor is a firefighter.
A fire at sea is a matter of concern for sailors. In the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise 2022, two Peruvian sailors were injured severely during an engine room fire on their vessel, the BAP Guise. The USS Daniel Inouye is one of the brand-new Arleigh Burke destroyers of the Navy. Unlike previous ships of this class, its model has built-in hangars that can take helicopters with it to the sea.
Navy officials are not clearly saying when the vessel is expected to deploy. Per the officials, it is expected to set sail as part of a carrier group spearheaded by the USS Theodore Roosevelt based in San Diego on a westward voyage.
The vessel’s namesake played a pivotal role in shaping the US policy in the Pacific and Asia during his time in the US Senate. Inouye has chaired several committees on appropriations, intelligence, and commerce. From 2010 to 2012, he served as the Senate’s president pro tempore.
Inouye used his position to steer federal funding, specifically defence dollars, into the economy of Hawaii. Policymakers have also described Hawaii’s economy as a “three-legged stool” propped up by defence spending, tourism, and construction.
The defence initiatives Inouye had been pushing for are still coming, and his strong influence on military planning in the Pacific is still felt over a decade since his passing away.
The military’s footprint in Hawaii has been the subject of local scrutiny.
The military has been striving to eliminate 104 million gallons of fuel from the Navy’s underground Red Hill hub that lays 100 feet above an aquifer that most of Honolulu depend on for its drinking water.
The Navy officials have insisted for several years that the facility was safe. Still, in 2021 (November), fuel from this facility tainted the Oahu water system of the navy that catered to 93,000 individuals, including military and local families that reside in former military housing zones.
The succession of several toxic spills at Red Hill as well as other military facilities, has strained the relationships between the residents of the island and military leaders during a phase when the military takes the Pacific to be the top priority area of operations as tensions rise with China’s military.
This Monday, the military posted of what it considers an unsafe manoeuvre during the weekend by a navy vessel from China in the Taiwan Strait in which it cut the path of the USS Chung-Hoon, yet another Pearl Harbor destroyer named for a Hawaii-born World War II hero, compelling it to slow down to avoid a collision.
The Chung-Hoon was carrying out a freedom of navigation transit of the strait with HMCS Montreal, the Royal Canadian Navy frigate. Beijing considers the strait to be part of its territory and Taiwan, which is a self-ruled island democracy, to be a rogue province. Several countries in the region understand that the Taiwan Strait is part of international waters and a crucial shipping lane. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has pledged to use military force if needed to bring Taiwan under the control of his government.
The incident occurred as Lloyd Austin, the US Defense Secretary, and Gen. Li Shangfu, China’s Defense Minister, were present in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, a yearly defence and security conference. Here, Li accused the US and its allies of successfully provoking China and urged diplomacy but denied America’s requests for meetings and dismissed calls from other countries to resume discussions with the US.
Rising regional tensions have strengthened fears that a huge conflict could break out anytime in the Pacific, costing innumerable lives and throwing the worldwide economy into massive chaos.
China has been locked in an array of maritime disputes over navigation and territorial rights with neighbouring nations in the South China Sea, a critical trade channel that more than one-third of global trade is carried.
Beijing claims almost the entire waterway to be its sovereign territory and has been harassing fishermen and merchant vessels from neighbouring nations to assert the claims. In response, the US and other countries have been carrying out freedom of navigation missions in the region as part of near-constant worldwide operations.
Between the time spent in the shipyard in Maine, its journey to Hawaii and the time in the islands, Dore is currently the third officer commanding the USS Daniel Inouye. But he will be the first to lead it and its crew members in a real-world, exciting mission.
References: Military.com, Star-Advertiser
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