By JOSHUA STEWART and SAM FELLMAN
Faced with budget woes, the U.S. Navy has indefinitely postponed the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, the Defense Department announced Feb. 6. The move drops the number of aircraft carriers deployed in 5th Fleet from two to one.
“This is the first adjustment of what will be, I think, a series of adjustments across the services as we try to preserve our readiness for as long as possible,” said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in an interview.
Pentagon spokesman George Little made clear that this decision came down to budget uncertainties. The federal government is currently funded at last year’s level through a continuing resolution and faces the possibility of a deeper slashing from automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, set to take effect in March. Both of these could cost the Navy as much as $10 billion this year.
“Facing budget uncertainty — including a continuing resolution and the looming potential for across-the-board sequestration cuts — the U.S. Navy made this request to the secretary and he approved,” Little said in a statement Feb. 6. “This prudent decision enables the U.S. Navy to maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they are needed.”
Since 2010, two carriers have been deployed to the Persian Gulf for most of the year, an operational tempo that has strained the fleet and which top Navy officials had hoped to reduce last fall. It is not clear if the carrier presence drop will be temporary or permanent, but it is sure to reduce the mission load on the carrier fleet.
Fleet Forces Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brian Badura said that the deployment of aircraft carrier Truman and its escort, the cruiser Gettysburg, had been “delayed indefinitely.”
The John C. Stennis CSG, which deployed in late August, has been the only carrier force in the region since December, when the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group returned home for repairs.
The Truman CSG completed Composite Unit Training Exercise on Feb. 3, a final step before starting a deployment.
The Ike CSG is still slated to deploy again later this month and will relieve Stennis. The Ike does not need to complete workups and will allow the Navy to keep one carrier in 5th Fleet when and if the cuts take hold.
Nonetheless, the Navy’s choice of carriers to deploy has prompted some discontent. Some sailors and family members questioned why the Navy decided to redeploy the Eisenhower CSG, which only returned a month-and-a-half ago from a six-month cruise, instead of sending out the Truman, which last deployed in 2010 and rejoined the fleet last summer after an overhaul.
“Leave the Ike, deploy the Truman,” one sailor wrote in a comment posted online after the news broke.
Another wrote on Navy Times’ Facebook page, “Welcome to the era of sequestration.”
Staff writer Andrew Tilghman contributed to this report.