More On The "Carrier Surge"
I posted earlier this week on the media reports of an incipent "naval build-up" in the Persian Gulf, and dismissed them as a standard MSM failure to understand normal naval deployment patterns. Based on reports that came out today from the New York Times and Navy Times, though, it looks like my initial reaction was wrong -- this might be the real thing. (Please note that by "real thing" I mean that we're probably going to plus-up the Allied naval force in the Fifth Fleet AOR over at least the short term; it most emphatically does not mean that we're about to attack Iran, despite the recent brayings of various moonbats. Leaving aside the political unlikelihood of successfully opening a new front in the War on Terror without Congressional authorization, there hasn't been any indication of other military precursors you'd see if we were about to attack someone new.)
What made me change my mind? Well, here's an excerpt from the Navy Times article:
The Bremerton, Wash.-based Stennis, Carrier Air Wing 9 and the rest of the strike group have completed pre-deployment training and were scheduled to deploy in late January, officials said. A Pentagon source said the deployment could be moved up several weeks.People with staff experience will recognize the specific "code words" within the article that indicate that the sources for the story actually have a clue as to what's going on. For this reason, I've concluded that the Navy is trying to get the word out to the Iranians that we're about to move some more naval forces into the region -- probably just to remind them that we can.
If the group deploys early, it could be in the gulf within several weeks, allowing it to overlap there for as many as two months with the Norfolk, Va.-based Dwight D. Eisenhower CSG, which deployed Oct. 3 on a seven-month cruise. It entered the gulf Dec. 11, according to the 5th Fleet...
...A 5th Fleet spokesman confirmed that a “request for forces,” or RFF, has been sent to the Pentagon by U.S. Central Command.
“I’m aware that they’ve put out an RFF requesting strategic military assets to be moved to this region,” said Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl. He said additional ground forces had also been requested. He declined to comment on specific units.
I haven't been in the Gulf on an aircraft carrier (or any other ship, for that matter) since 2000, so things may have changed, but here's my quasi-knowledgable take on what's probably going to happen:
Trying to get a Carrier Strike Group underway early around the holidays is problematic at best. After a JTFEX, there are specific things that need to be done as far as maintenance and stores-loading that would be very expensive to make happen quicker. Coupled with having people out on holiday leave across the country (and knowing the morale problems that would be caused by cancelling the 2nd Holiday Leave period for anything short of an expanded war), my guess is that getting the Stennis Strike Group underway before the 2nd week in January would be fairly unlikely. When I was on the Stennis for their 2000 deployment, we left San Diego about January 7th, and did exercises and port visits in South Korea, Hong Kong, and Malaysia before getting to the 5th Fleet AOR at the end of February. If they were serious about getting to the Gulf and cut out any port calls, they could probably make it to the Pakistani coast (the easternmost part of the AOR) in about 4 weeks -- remember, it's a 10,000 nm voyage from Seattle to Karachi, which is 28 days at 15 knots. (I use this voyage calculator to come up with maritime distances, btw.) For those who think the nuclear-powered carrier could arrive sooner, yes, that's true -- but remember her escorts are conventionally-powered, and have to refuel a lot more frequently if they go much faster than that. So, unless they extend the Eisenhower or send a surge carrier to the AOR, the two month overlap they discuss in the article looks fairly realistic. Of course, to maintain that level of naval presence in the Gulf beyond the spring would require a complete reshuffling of the fleet-wide deployment schedule, which we normally do only when there's a hot war.
In summary, if we end up with four carriers in the AOR at the same time and the new Congressional leadership starts making noises about "dealing with" Tehran, then I'll start listening to the "we're about to bomb Iran" crowd -- not before.
Update 0136 22 Dec: Oh, and which submarine is assigned to the JCSSG, and might end up pulling the short straw? It looks like it's the USS Key West (SSN 722). Also of interest to submariners, the destroyer USS O'Kane (DDG 77), named for RADM Dick O'Kane, is also assigned to the Strike Group.
Update 0959 24 Dec: The "progressive" "press" is now claiming that the Stennis has already left. Apparently we're covering this up by use of holographic projections, since a reader in Bremerton confirmed yesterday afternoon that the Stennis was still sitting in port.