Retired Admirals Decry Lack of Carriers in Persian Gulf

By Taylor Feuss 


A carrier gap in the Persian Gulf will make U.S. forces more vulnerable as they grow more embroiled in a conflict with the so-called Islamic State, a group of retired Navy admirals said July 7 in Washington, D.C.

The Navy is pulling the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier out of the region this fall because of increased strain on the forces and a decreased budget, Navy officials said last month. That will leave a two- to three-month gap when there are no carriers in the Persian Gulf. The announcement has many critics.

Retired Navy Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, former commander of U.S. Naval Force Europe, said in a globalized society it is the job of the Navy to protect the “global commons” and that it has been the role of the aircraft carrier to provide the president the power to “control a crisis” as it arises.

“If you don’t have a carrier out there you run the risk of [not] being able to control a situation as it escalates,” Fitzgerald said at a Navy League panel discussion on the cost and impact of the carrier gap.

The Navy has 10 carriers, plus two more under construction. It is required to have 11 deployable, but currently only has 10. Normally, one is deployed in the Pacific and a second in the Middle East, while the others must remain on standby and able to set sail within 30 days, if needed.

The Roosevelt will be forced to leave the region before its replacement, the Harry S. Truman is ready in early winter, the Navy said.

Bryan McGrath, founder and managing director at The Ferry Bridge Group, a consulting firm, called the gap a “setback,” hindering the Navy’s ability to maintain defenses in a wider array of areas, especially amidst conflict with groups like the Islamic State.

“Is this a sign of the Navy stretched too thinly? Is this a sign of a Navy in decline?” he asked.

Fitzgerald said: “We’ve seen this in so many occasions lately. When ISIS became the front-page headline for 54 days, the U.S. Navy was flying aircraft carrier operations over Iraq and Syria. The land-based component was unable to do that.”

However, retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, CEO of the United States Naval Institute, said gaps in Naval presence are “nothing new” and the nation possesses other means to maintain its presence during the gap.

Carrier demand has exceeded supply for “many years” and carriers are “certainly not” the only Navy assets that can be used in this situation, he said. Land-based aircraft and smaller ships can act as helpful tools during the gap, he added.

While having the larger capabilities of the carrier and all that comes with it is beneficial, “there are things that smaller ships … can do better than carriers,” Daly said.

The nation also has access to a “different array of allied capabilities,” said Robert Farley, professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky.

The carrier gap stems from years of strain on the naval forces. As threats to national security increase, naval forces’ capabilities have lacked the time, ability and resources to modernize and evolve in response to external threats, panelists said.

The Navy does not have enough sailors, Marines and ships for missions necessary to combat increasing threats. The Navy League is calling on Congress and the administration to provide more funding for the Navy to modernize its programs, the association said in a statement.

Back to Top