Since 1973, the United States has forward deployed an aircraft carrier in Japan. The first was USS Midway (CV-41), now a museum in San Diego, and over the last 41 years there has been a permanent carrier presence at the Yokosuka Naval Base. The most current forward deployed carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) arrived in Japan in October to replace the USS George Washington (CVN-73).
In November, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments released a report that laid out a number of advantages for forward deploying two aircraft carriers to Japan, instead of one. Bryan Clark, coauthor of the report, brought up one major factor at the press conference, “Not having the transit time from the West Coast saves about 20 percent in the deployment length.”
Other advantages include:
- Forward deployed aircraft carriers do not undergo extensive maintenance cycles at their base. The ship would be replaced with another carrier before returning to the United States for overhaul. This keeps the forward deployed ships able to operate at a higher tempo.
- Due to the higher operational tempo, the crew of the forward deployed carrier would be better trained and more proficient than ships stationed in the United States.
- Many of the crew put down roots in Japan while stationed there, this has made “crew swapping” a viable choice for deployments. When the carrier deployed in Japan returns – permanently – to the United States, the crew is swapped onto the replacement carrier. This also has the effect of keeping proficiency and training higher.
The report also lays out plans to add a second Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) to the naval forces permanently stationed in Japan. This would have the same effect on the Marine Expeditionary Force as it would on the Carrier Battle Group. Increased proficiency, higher readiness and shortened transit times to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.
So far, the Navy doesn’t have any plans to forward deploy the second carrier; a Navy official, quoted in Defense News, said, “There has absolutely been no conversation related to forward-deploying an additional carrier in Japan,” but that doesn’t mean that there is no interest in the concept. The same article quoted a Senate staffer who said, “Deploying an additional forward-based carrier to the Pacific is not a new idea, but given the demands on the carrier fleet it is an option that’s time may have finally come.”
With the pivot to Asia, that has brought us into political conflict with China, there is another major reason to consider the idea. Having the capability to put two Carrier Battle Groups and two Amphibious Readiness Groups in the South China Seas in days, not weeks, is not a point to dismiss.
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