Another Year, Another Carrier Gap

It has just been a couple of months since the end of the last carrier gap in the Persian Gulf. USS Theodore Roosevelt headed to San Diego for maintenance and USS Truman didn’t replace her for almost two months. Although the world didn’t end, the strain on military operations in the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean did create some minor hardships for the allied forces.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy hasn’t found an extra aircraft carrier in the interim, nor have they been able to alter the maintenance needs of the fleet. In other words, 10 carriers are not enough to cover all of the demands that our nation’s policies put on the Navy.

The next potential gap of carrier coverage begins in late May when the Harry S Truman CSG (Carrier Strike Group) is scheduled to end its deployment. The Eisenhower CSG will deploy later during the summer but, for a few weeks, the John C. Stennis will be the only carrier deployed to the Pacific or Persian Gulf. That is a lot of area for one carrier to cover.

The Navy is looking at ways to minimize the gap. Options include extending the Truman’s deployment past the current seven-month deployment timeframe or cutting maintenance times on a carrier to return it to the fleet quicker. Cancelling the USS Ronald Reagan’s overhaul is also being discussed.

Carrier GapThese options have all been used in the past to maximize the at-sea time of our carriers. The major problem is that all of these options are hard on sailors and ships. More maintenance is needed, overhauls become even more important and they continue to be pushed off until the need becomes acute and retention becomes difficult when sailors go from one overly-long deployment to the next.

The Navy’s current mission is optimized for a 15 carrier force and is difficult for an 11 carrier force. When USS Enterprise was retired, the Navy dropped to the current 10 carrier force and that is simply not enough to do the job.

Either the mission needs to change or the number of carriers needs to increase. With the budget demands that a single nuclear powered carrier brings, the odds that the number of carriers will ever rise above an even dozen is slim. USS Nimitz, currently our oldest active carrier, was launched in 1972. At 44 years old, Nimitz is nearing the end of its active duty life. It is projected to be replaced by the USS John F. Kennedy in 2025.

The other option is scaling down the role that the Navy takes in exerting foreign policy. In 1986, the US Navy deployed three carriers (USS America, USS Coral Sea and USS Saratoga) into the Gulf of Sidra as a Freedom of Navigation exercise. Those same ships were involved in the attacks on Libya after a terrorist attack in Germany was traced back to the rogue state. At the time, the US Navy had 14 carriers on active service.

Opponents of the large carriers like to point out that the United States has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined and, although that is a valid point, the Navy also does more than the rest of the world’s navies do. A blue water fleet is no longer the mark of a world power, but it does allow the United States to act in the role of world’s policeman and project power to almost any point on the globe.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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