The Complex

Super-Copters, Spy Planes, and a Publicist: Here’s How The U.S. Military Will Help With Typhoon Relief

The U.S. military began providing humanitarian assistance in the Philippines on Sunday following a monstrous typhoon that leveled much of the country Friday and possibly killed more than 10,000 people, according to the latest estimates. The storm affected more than 4.2 million people across 36 provinces in the southeastern Asian nation, U.S. officials said.

How will the U.S. help, though? Here's a primer, based on announced deployments and previous disaster relief efforts.

Command unit: The first conventional U.S. forces on the ground were U.S. Marines, who flew from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Japan on Sunday in KC-130J Hercules planes. They are commanded by Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, a seasoned infantry officer who, ironically enough, led the service's public affairs division at the Pentagon until a few months ago. Kennedy's team is "continuously assessing the situation along with the Government and Armed Forces of the Philippines to determine how to best make use of personnel and resources," Marine officials said in a news release Monday.

The U.S. military has named Lt. Gen. Terry Robling as the "executive agent" for the operation. He commands Marine Corps Forces Pacific from Hawaii, and will likely be in close consultation with Kennedy and his staff. The initial focus will be providing maritime search and rescue missions, moving food, water and other supplies, and setting up logistical support to make the mission easier.

KC-130J planes: The initial group of Marines arrived Sunday in one of the workhorse aircraft of the U.S. military. They are capable of refueling smaller aircraft, including MV-22B Osprey and CH-53E helicopters, and carrying a variety of troops and supplies.

The military already has deployed at least five KC-130Js in support of the mission. On Monday, they assisted in delivering 38,000 pounds of relief supplies provide by the Philippine government, and transported 210 aid workers, Marine officials said. The Marines expected to assist on Tuesday with receiving humanitarian assistance supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and assisting with the transport of people stranded in typhoon-ravaged areas.

MV-22B Ospreys: The Marine Corps has deployed at least four of the revolutionary tilt-rotor aircraft to the Philippines, providing an aircraft that can carry civilians and military forces and supplies quickly and into areas where runways are not available. The aircraft's design allow it to take off like a helicopter, but fly like an airplane once higher in the air.

P-3 Orion planes: The Navy quickly deployed two of these turboprop aircraft from Misawa, Japan, where personnel operating them were on a six-month rotational assignment in support of the Navy's 7th Fleet. The aircraft are capable of performing search-and-rescue missions, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The George Washington: This aircraft carrier was in Hong Kong when the storm hit the Philippines, carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft aboard. Its crew were recalled early from their shore leave, and began making "best speed" for the Philippines Monday night, Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. It is expected to be off the coast of the Philippines within two or three days. It provided some aid in Japan following the devastating earthquake there in 2011, but was forced to leave early when its personnel detected radiation in the air from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The cruisers Antietam and Cowpens: These ships are among those that will escort the George Washington. They'll provide security for the aircraft carrier, but also carry helicopters and supplies that could prove helpful in the Philippines. The Cowpens also was involved in the U.S. military's 2011 Japan relief mission.

The destroyer Mustin: This ship also will provide security for the George Washington, while serving as a landing site for helicopters. In 2011, it was involved in both earthquake relief in Japan and humanitarian assistance in Thailand, following widespread flooding during the country's monsoon season.

The supply ship Charles Drew: This is one of Military Sealift Command's noncombatant ships, carrying minimal weaponry while moving cargo and supplies for the U.S. military. This ship is manned primarily by civilian mariners, with a handful of U.S. sailors also typically on board. It also has space to land helicopters, most commonly the Navy's MH-60.

Carrier Air Wing Five: This unit is deployed aboard the George Washington and its accompanying ships, comprising about 1,900 sailors and 67 aircraft, the Navy said in a news release in September. It includes F/A-18F Super Hornets, F/A-18E Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, C-2A Greyhounds, and MH-60S and MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.

The fighter jets' ability to assist in the Philippines may be limited, but the helicopters will almost certainly receive heavy work. The Hawkeyes and Greyhounds also will be able to provide support on the ground, as cargo planes capable of ferrying passengers and cargo to and from the shore.

If previous large-scale humanitarian assistance missions are any indication, the U.S. military could be in the Philippines for weeks, if not longer. It will all depend on how quickly conditions improve -- and how long the Philippine government welcomes help.

Paula Bronstein/ Getty Images

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