Navy faces carrier gap in Middle East

13News Now Mike Gooding has the story

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Right now, there is a carrier gap in the Middle East.

For the first time since 2015, there is no aircraft carrier present in the Fifth Fleet to fight ISIS.

And there won't be one there for a while, at least, until the USS George H.W.  Bush is set to deploy from Norfolk later this month.

"It means there's a gap in coverage," said retired Rear Admiral Mike Groothousen, who commanded the USS Harry S. Truman during Operation Iraqi Freedom. "There's a gap in capability. The combatant commander has to do with what he has at hand and he's short of what he really needs."

When the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower returned home to Norfolk last week, the ship's arrival was good news for Navy families.

Navy leaders had declared that 8-month deployments are unsustainable, and they pledged to get back to 7 months, which they did with the Ike.

"We have to get the men and women home for a reprieve before we put them back out on station," said Groothousen.

While that is good news, the Ike's departure means a significant, if temporary loss of naval firepower . The Ike's air wing did a lot of heavy lifting, flying more than 1,900 combat stories and dropping more than 1,200 bombs. 

Groothousen says the United States simply does not have enough carriers, and, needs more.

"Right now, this nation has been at war for over 15 years now," he said. "And we've had fewer carriers than we've had since the beginning of World War II. I mean, it's absolutely atrocious that we're trying to fill all these gaps with the vessels that we have and that needs to change. Absolute minimum would be twelve and  there is a great argument to be made that we really need fifteen."

The "GoNavy" and "GlobalSecurity.org" web sites report that all ten active carriers are currently in port, in Norfolk, Newport News and Portsmouth, Virginia, San Diego, California, Bremerton, Washington and Yokosuka, Japan, as of December 30th.

And, there are no fast fixes on the horizon. The Gerald R. Ford is supposed to be commissioned later this year, but its planned initial deployment isn't until 2021. Meanwhile, work continues on the next two carriers. With the Kennedy scheduled for commissioning in 2020 and the Enterprise in 2025.


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