Carrier’s deployment extended in move to crush ISIS

David Larter, Navy Times

The Truman Carrier Strike Group’s deployment has been extended by a month to remain in U.S. Central Command as part of the Obama administration’s escalating push to defeat ISIS.

The Navy’s top officer said the carrier Harry S. Truman is needed as the U.S. and its allies bear down on the Islamic State group, which officials and experts say is on the ropes after nearly two years of bombing and special operations raids.

“Defense Department and Navy leaders have approved U.S. Central Command’s request to extend Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group’s deployment for 30 days in support of the President’s number one priority to accelerate the fight against [ISIS],” said Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, in a statement provided to Navy Times. “This decision is central to our ongoing effort to dismantle and roll back terrorist networks in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.”

The Truman CSG includes the cruiser Anzio, and the destroyers Gravely, Bulkeley, Gonzalez and Ramage. The Truman has been at the center of the U.S. Navy’s war strikes against ISIS, having deployed days after last November’s shocking Paris attacks. Aviators based on the Truman have flown 1,407 combat sorties, dropping 1,118 precision-guided munitions equally over 580 tons of ordnance, as of April 15 — setting an Operation Inherent Resolve bombing record.

They edged out the Theodore Roosevelt, which dropped 1,085 precision-guided bombs.

The extension will delay a presence gap in CENTCOM this spring, but also represents a setback for the Navy’s overstretched flattop force. The Middle East was without a carrier for several weeks in 2015 in the middle of the ISIS fight because the carrier Theodore Roosevelt departed without a relief. Truman filled the gap in December when it arrived in the Middle East.

Richardson has championed an effort begun by his predecessor to reign in the Navy’s deployment lengths to no more than seven months. He rejected the notion that the extension, which pushes a previously scheduled seven-month deployment to eight months, signaled a return to long deployments.

Richardson said the request from the Central Command Combatant Commander, the four-star officer in charge of overseeing operations in the region, was not fulfilled lightly.

“This decision was not made lightly, and does not signal a return to extended deployments. Deliberate planning went into this decision, assessing the impact on the lives of our Sailors, their families, as well as Fleet readiness,” Richardson said. “Before deviating from our seven-month deployment policy, we consider each Combatant Commander’s request to ensure the readiness of our naval forces is considered. We will do everything we can to mitigate the impact on our families and execute planned seven-month deployment lengths going forward.”

Richardson thanked the sailors and families for pushing on.

“The superb efforts of the men and women of the HST Carrier Strike Group have and will continue to be instrumental in winning this fight,” Richardson said. “We extend our sincerest thanks to the men and women of the HST Carrier Strike Group and their families as they all share in this sacrifice.”

Navy officials said as part of the extension, the sailors would be compensated through special long deployment pay that kicks in at the 220-day mark and pays about $500 a month prorated daily. The pay was pushed through in 2014 by Navy leaders, including Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel, because deployments had surged to almost 11 months long.

The Truman CSG boss, Rear Adm. Bret Batchelder, said sailors took the news well and were continuing the fight.

“The reaction has been exceedingly positive,” Batchelder said in a Friday phone interview. “They have the attitude of professional sailors, just as I would expect. They received the news right in stride.”

The Truman has been performing about 20 percent of the sorties over Iraq and Syria, Batchelder said, adding that the familiarity his pilots and crew have with the battle-space is a key advantage in keeping Truman on station longer.

‘We need more Navy’

The extension of Truman came as no surprise to critics who say the country has let the Navy become too small. The Navy has been down from 11 carriers to 10 since the Enterprise was taken out of service in 2012.

Critics say the combatant commanders and military leaders will have to choose between gaps in presence or long deployments, because the current carrier force is strapped between requirements to patrol aboard and to return and get the maintenance these ships need.

Truman’s extension also is a bad omen for the Navy’s new plan to get the fleet back to a predictable rotation. Known as the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, the Navy is pushing for seven-month deployments with more time built in for maintenance and training. The idea is that the Navy only deploys the ships that are maintained, manned, trained and equipped to go forward.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group, which deploys to relieve Truman later this spring, is scheduled to be the first carrier under the OFRP construct.

But the model relies on COCOMs and the administration to OK an region without an aircraft carrier, a model that isn’t going to hold up in the real world, said Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer skipper and deputy head of the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower.

“The extension of Truman should surprise no one, and it exposes the vacuity of the Navy’s ‘supply driven’ approach to force management (OFRP), which essentially states to the President and the COCOMs, ‘Hey, this is what we have, here’s how we intend to provide it, you folks need to make do,’” McGrath said. “This is a logical, coherent, and straightforward approach, right up until it has to be actually implemented in the real world.”

McGrath said the world state demands a bigger Navy or fewer requirements.

“The plain, ugly, truth is that if we wish to adequately sustain and advance our interests in a world of increasing great power contention, we need more carriers, more submarines, more ships, and more airplanes,” he said. “In short, we need more Navy.”

One key lawmaker agreed, saying the size of the Navy was continuing to impact families and put undue strain on the fleet.

“We have a 10-carrier fleet in a 15-carrier world, and that doesn’t just hurt our Navy combat power, it also hurts our Navy families,” said Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia, who chairs the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee.

Bryan Clark, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said the strain on the fleet is inevitable until Enterprise’s replacement, the first-in-class carrier Gerald R. Ford, comes online.

“You either have to accept presence gaps or long deployments,” he said “And it’s going to be that way until the Ford enters the fleet.”

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