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Navy realigns carrier fleet: Ronald Reagan to replace GW in Japan

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan conducts carrier qualification operations in the Pacific Ocean, in this 2013 photo. Next year, USS Reagan will replace the USS George Washington as the Navy's homeported carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan will make Yokosuka its new home port in the summer of 2015, replacing the USS George Washington, Navy officials in Japan announced Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Norfolk, Va.-based USS Theodore Roosevelt will replace the Ronald Reagan in San Diego, while the George Washington moves to Virginia to complete a multi-year nuclear refueling and overhaul, according to a Commander Naval Forces Japan statement.

The Navy said it would release timelines on the moves at a later date; however, Navy contracting documents call for Huntington Ingalls, the lead contractor handling USS George Washington’s overhaul, to work on advance planning between October 2013 and September 2016.

Carrier Air Wing Five will remain in Japan as part of the USS Ronald Reagan’s complement. This ship rotation also does not necessitate any changes to base facilities in either San Diego or Yokosuka, officials said Wednesday.

Most of the crew of the George Washington will transfer over to USS Reagan, “so there will be no mass movement of families overseas,” CNFJ spokesman Jon Nylander said Wednesday.

The moves are part of the United States’ rebalancing pivot strategy in the Pacific theater, an area that the Obama administration and the Pentagon have deemed their greatest long-term priority.

“The security environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific requires that the U.S. Navy station the most capable ships forward,” according to the statement. “This posture allows the most rapid response times possible for maritime and joint forces, and brings our most capable ships with the greatest amount of striking power and operational capability to bear in the timeliest manner.”

Despite arriving in Japan only in 2008, when the USS Kitty Hawk was retired, the George Washington’s departure was anticipated due to its age.

The George Washington was commissioned in 1992. An overhaul for a Nimitz-class carrier generally takes about three years and must be done in the United States.

Because some of Reagan’s systems differ from those of the George Washington, a small contingent will remain with the ship and transfer to Japan. Also, a small group of George Washington sailors will remain with the carrier when it transfers to Virginia.

The Ronald Reagan previously played a large role during Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. military’s relief effort following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The ship served as a floating refueling station for Japanese and U.S. helicopters flying relief missions to the battered Tohoku coast.

About 50 former Reagan sailors have since filed a lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Power Company, blaming the company for illnesses they say were a result of radiation exposure during the operation. Navy officials said at the time that the ship was exposed to a low level of radiation and then scrubbed at sea.

Japanese media outlets reported last June that Reagan would replace the George Washington in 2015, citing anonymous sources. Navy officials said publicly that no decision had been made at the time.

However, senior Navy leaders were also adamant that a carrier would remain forward deployed to Yokosuka, and often added that the service’s Asia-Pacific locations were due to receive many of the most modernized assets in the fleet.

Only four carriers are newer than the George Washington. Reagan, second-newest behind the USS George H.W. Bush, went on active duty in 2003.

The Ronald Reagan spent 2012 in Bremerton, Wash., where its sailors and contractors overhauled all four propulsion engines, propeller shafts and rudders. Workers also repaired the hull and modernized ship systems before the carrier returned to San Diego in March 2013.

slavin.erik@stripes.com
Twitter:@eslavin_stripes

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