The US Navy’s aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush and its strike group finally left Virginia January 21 to begin its new deployment, ending the unusual near-month-long carrier gap in the Middle East.
The carrier was held up with maintenance issues that extended its scheduled maintenance from eight to 13 months, which in turn pushed back necessary training cycles, so it was unable to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower when it left the Persian Gulf December 30.
“The cause of that extension was shipyard and contractor performance and the quality of the repair on several pieces of equipment,” US Fleet Forces Command said in a statement to Stripes.com.
Even more rarely, for the week between the Eisenhower’s return and the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson January 5, there were no US aircraft carriers deployed anywhere in the world. Carriers in the Middle East have been used to launch airstrikes against Daesh and are used generally for maritime security.
According to Stripes.com, the US Navy is struggling to maintain readiness as the size of its fleet shrank to its lowest point in nearly a century in 2015, despite remaining in high demand. The Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan, introduced in 2014, is meant to get the fleet sailing smoothly again after years of intense demand. OFRP aims to fit maintenance, training and deployment cycles into 36-month rotations.
The Eisenhower was the first carrier force to be integrated into the plan, and to hit the seven-month deployment goal set in 2014. But after that success has come a delay in the Bush deployment, and questions about whether these maintenance timelines are realistic and about whether the Navy actually has an adequate fleet.
New US President Donald Trump campaigned on promises to expand the country’s military power, including adding to its naval fleet.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations William Moran told Breaking Defense earlier this month that Trump’s transition team had asked them what they could do with an immediate influx of cash. “The answer was to make sure the 274 [ships] we have were maintained to provide 274 ships’ worth of combat power,” Moran said. “Then we’ll start buying more ships. They heard that loud and clear, I hope.”
The USS George H. W. Bush and destroyers USS Laboon and USS Truxton are bound for the Navy’s fifth and sixth fleet area of operations, which include the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, Virginia’s WAVY reports.