Carriers Truman, Eisenhower swap deployment dates

By Mike Hixenbaugh
The Virginian-Pilot


The aircraft carriers Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman are trading places: One will deploy sooner than planned; the other will deploy later, the Navy announced Monday morning.

The unusual swap affects thousands of Norfolk sailors and their families and stems from delays at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, where the Eisenhower has been undergoing maintenance since last fall.

Under the plan by U.S. Fleet Forces Command, the Truman will substitute for the Eisenhower in the upcoming rotation, deploying to the Middle East sometime in late 2015. The Eisenhower won’t deploy until the summer of 2016, when the Truman was scheduled to ship out.

The Navy plans its ship rotations many years in advance, juggling complicated maintenance schedules for its 10-carrier fleet with demands overseas.

The ships also are swapping strike groups, another unusual move that will keep air wings and surface ships on their original deployment schedule. The aircraft squadrons and ships of Carrier Strike Group 8, typically assigned to the Eisenhower, will instead deploy with the Truman. The Eisenhower will deploy as flagship of Carrier Strike Group 10, the Truman’s longtime strike group.

“The move makes sense,” said retired Vice Adm. Pete Daly, director of the U.S. Naval Institute and former Fleet Forces deputy commander. “The Eisenhower has been delayed twice in the yard, they have a couple big installs, and they weren’t going to be able to get from here to there in time to deploy next year.”

The Eisenhower was scheduled to come out of Norfolk Naval Shipyard next month and begin preparations for deployment next year. But now the ship is expected to remain in the yard at least until February, said Jeff Cunningham, a shipyard spokesman. Several of the ship’s systems – including shafts, rudders and distilling units – have required more maintenance than anticipated, Cunningham said.

Another factor that could worsen the delay: The shipyard paused all but the most critical nuclear maintenance work last month after discovering lapses in worker training and the handling of potentially contaminated materials.

The Truman, having returned from a nine-month deployment in April, will enter the shipyard in the coming weeks for an abbreviated maintenance period before beginning work-ups for deployment early next year.

“Think of it like this,” said Daly, the former Fleet Forces official. “You’ve got a car in the shop that’s running over. And you’ve got another car you’re about to put in the shop, but you haven’t started all the big repairs that will keep it in the shop longer. You can hold off on some of those bigger repairs, do just the most important work, and get that car back out there faster.”

The strategy is not without risks, Daly said, but it appears to be the Navy’s best option for meeting its requirements overseas under budget constraints that took effect last year.

It’s been a hectic couple of years for both ships. Just days before the Truman was to ship out in February 2013, federal budget cuts forced the Navy to delay the deployment by five months. A week after the Truman delay was announced, the Eisenhower left Norfolk on the second leg of a rare split cruise that spanned almost 13 months.

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