A statement from the Pentagon press secretary yesterday confirmed what was already suspected: Because of constrained funding and uncertainty over sequestration, the Navy will not be redeploying the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf:
The secretary of defense has delayed the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and the USS Gettysburg (CG-64), which were scheduled to depart Norfolk, Va., later this week for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.
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. This prudent decision enables the U.S. Navy to maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they are needed to respond to national security contingencies.
The United States will continue to maintain a robust military presence in the CENTCOM region, including the current carrier presence and a mix of other assets, to fulfill enduring commitments to our partners. The U.S. military continues to stand ready to respond to any contingency and to confront any threat in the region.
The Virginian-Pilot explains the significance of this delay: “The United States has tried to keep two carrier groups in the Persian Gulf since tensions with Iran flared in 2010. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the transit route for about a fifth of the world’s oil supply, in retaliation for increased Western-led sanctions.” There haven’t always been literally two carrier groups in the Gulf region, but there has been at least one there and one on its way there or back in the past few years. The USS Enterprise returned from the Gulf region a couple months ago, the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier’s final voyage, leaving just the John C. Stennis to keep an eye on the mullahs. That ship will be relieved by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower later this year.
It’s unclear whether, if sequestration is averted but some substantial defense cuts still go through, the U.S. could maintain a basically constant presence of two carrier groups in the Gulf. Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings had a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week that nicely outlined what further cuts in defense spending could mean.