The Pentagon has approved the use of two Air Force planes to dump chemicals on the oil spill threatening the Gulf Coast.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Friday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved the operation by two C-130 Hercules cargo planes.
The planes were sent from Ohio to Mississippi Thursday to await orders. A number of civilian planes have already been doing the same job — using chemicals to try to break up the oil.
The federal government is working to determine how large a role the military should play in the cleanup.
C-130 Hercules cargo planes, specially designed for aerial spraying, were sent Thursday from the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Ohio, said a spokesman there, Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.
The planes and crews were standing ready in case they're needed, said Maj. David Faggard, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.
"If this mission comes to pass, it would be first time we have done this in a real world scenario," Barko said, adding that the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown has trained for such a mission and has done other spraying such as mosquito-abatement flights after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Navy also has sent equipment for the cleanup. But no larger Pentagon role in the crisis has been announced. Officials said Friday that the military was still talking with the Department of Homeland Security to lay out what needs there are in the cleanup that the nation's armed forces might be able to fill.
The Navy said Thursday that some of equipment had already begun arriving in Gulfport, Miss. It was 66,000 feet of inflatable boom and seven skimming systems. Fifty contractors who use the equipment also were being sent.
The help is being provided under an existing pollution cleanup agreement from the 1980s between the Navy and Coast Guard, officials said. Booms are commonly used as a floating barrier or fence to control the movement of spills in bodies of water.
The Navy also was making facilities available for use as staging areas. In addition to the base in Gulfport, the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida was being used as a staging area for more booms, recovery barges, tractor trailers, pumps and other related equipment used by Coast Guard contractors, Lt. Myers Vasquez, a Navy spokesman, said.
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