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Is The US Navy Breaking In The Gulf?

Citing budget strain and maintenance, the Navy is planning to pull its carrier from the Middle East later this fall, leaving a presence gap of up to two months—right in the middle of the fight against the Islamic State.

While some fleet presence will remain, the Air Force will have to help pitch in on the air strike front with increased deployments. As of January, the Air Force has handled 60 percent of air strikes, and the Navy 40 percent. The A-10 is the third most relied upon aircraft in the fight against ISIS, constituting 11 percent of sorties. This means the Air Force, despite its desire to sideline the A-10 at every point, will likely have to increase its dependence on aircraft even further in the near future. (RELATED: Air Force Continues Smear Campaign Against A-10 Jets)

But the decision to remove the carrier is not final. Central Command could still request an extension, subject to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s approval, Navy Times reports.

Budget cuts and escalating demand for deployment since 2011 entail a Navy short on resources. The Navy, working with a fleet of 10 carriers rather than the preferred 11, plans to send the Truman as a replacement for the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Gulf. The reason Truman won’t arrive until winter time is because it still needs more maintenance, owing to its previous lengthy deployment.

“As a result of meeting increased [combatant commander] demand in previous years, sequestration’s impact on our shipyards, and having a force structure of 10 (rather than 11) carriers, the Navy is not scheduled to provide a continuous carrier presence in some operating regions in fiscal year 2016,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. William Marks, told Navy Times.

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), thinks that both a request and subsequent approval is a very likely outcome.

“I believe there is a high probability the Roosevelt will be extended,” Clark, who supported Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert as director of his Commander’s Action Group, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The administration was reticent to reduce carrier presence down to 1 carrier in CENTCOM, and will probably be hesitant to have no carrier there while it is actively being used in a war zone.”

Still, even without Theodore Roosevelt, the military could continue launching air strikes against ISIS through its land bases scattered across the Middle East. What the carrier brings to the table, however, is a way of launching strikes without the bureaucratic entanglements involved from using bases in another host country. Although ISIS wouldn’t notice the carrier’s absence, Iran just might, as it constitutes a vulnerability, especially as tensions build from nuclear negotiations.

“The Iranian government may view a carrier inside the Gulf as a target it could choose to attack if a crisis emerges between the U.S. and Iran,” Clark added. “Given the proximity of Iranian land-based missiles, it would be very difficult to prevent the carrier from being damaged (and quite visibly) by a surprise Iranian attack.”

For the time being, getting back on the schedule track won’t just take a couple of years. Based on current Navy calculations, it won’t be possible to return to a normal presence schedule until 2020. More presence gaps are inevitable, and throwing more money at the problem won’t make it go away.

“If you approve lower budgets and do so in a disruptive fashion and expect better outcomes, that’s madness,” retired Vice Admiral Pete Daly, told The Virginian-Pilot. “So we are reaping what we sowed.”

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