There They Go Again
Once again, we see the national news media all googly-eyed over an upcoming "naval build-up in the Persian Gulf aimed at Iran" -- just like they were back in September. This new alarmism is based on a CBS News report last night (video here) claiming that we're going up to two aircraft carriers in the Gulf region next year. From the tone of the report, you'd think this is unprecedented -- except it happens about four times a year. That's because we keep one aircraft carrier in the Fifth Fleet AOR, and have "relief on station". Since there's half a world of transit time involved, a carrier can spend just a little over half of a six month deployment hanging around the Gulf (LANTFLT carriers can spend a little more time). It's like at the beginning of November when the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) relieved USS Enterprise (CVN 65) -- for a brief moment, there were two carriers in the AOR. The same thing will happen again when another carrier, likely the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), which just did its JTFEX in November, deploys. There's normally a 1-2 month break between the end of JTFEX and deployment. If they deploy early in January, they'd arrive in the Gulf sometime in February -- exactly when they need to for the Eisenhower to be able to make it home in time! Of course, like they did before, don't expect the alarmists to acknowledge when the Eisenhower leaves. It wouldn't mesh with their preconceptions.
Update 2141 20 Dec: The Military Life blog at The Kitsap Sun picked up on the story as well; Over there, Elaine found an article at Bloomberg.com that makes a little more sense if one looks at it with the right perspective. From the article:
Pentagon officials are reviewing a request by the top U.S. commander for the Middle East for an additional aircraft carrier and escort vessels in the Persian Gulf area, three defense officials said.The article goes on to discuss the Eisenhower and Stennis in terms of this deployment cycle, but reading between the lines, it looks like this might be a more long-term thing. This looks like CENTCOM might be looking for, rather than a one-time plus-up of the naval forces, an increase in the standing Fifth Fleet resource base. Without getting into too much detail, geographical area commanders put in requests for certain naval assets to the Joint Chiefs, and they get assigned a coverage level based on the yearly ship-years they'll have on station for each type. For example, based on the pattern we've been seeing where one carrier leaves as soon as its replacement arrives, it currently appears that Fifth Fleet has an assigned level of 1.0 aircraft carriers -- meaning that there will normally be one carrier on station at all times in the AOR. A level of 0.5 would mean you'd have six months of coverage every year, while 1.5 would mean you'd have one ship of that type on station half the year, and two for the other half (not necessarily consecutively). So, reading between the lines, I'd say this initiative from CENTCOM is a request to make the 1.0 number something bigger. These requests take a while to filter through the system (if you don't take away a resource from another area, such as PACOM, then it wreaks havoc with maintenance schedules), so it shouldn't cause any change in the short term schedule for either the Eisenhower or the Stennis.
The request by U.S. Central Command commander General John Abizaid is in the early review stages by the Joint Staff and Joint Forces Command that oversees the deployment and readiness of U.S. forces, the officials said. The request would then be forwarded to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the officials said.
Abizaid's request wasn't aimed at any one country, said the three officials familiar with the request, who asked not to be identified. Instead, they said, Abizaid wants to boost U.S. presence in a region that's seen increased rhetoric and war exercises by Iran, heightened tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia and increased violence in Afghanistan.
Update 0130 22 Dec: I changed my mind; it looks like this probably will change the Stennis' schedule a little bit.