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Navy hopes to bring stability to carrier deployments

The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower passes over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel as the ship returns from deployment to home port at Naval Station Norfolk in July 2013.

NORFOLK, Va. — Tens of thousands of sailors in Hampton Roads would deploy less frequently but for longer planned stretches under a new policy the Navy plans to launch later this year.

The change announced this week by Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, will overhaul deployment cycles of aircraft carrier strike groups, which have been stretched thin by budget cuts and more than a decade of war.

Under current operations, aircraft carrier crews ship out once every 32 months on deployments that are billed to last six to seven months. But global demands often stretch those tours to nine or 10 months, straining sailors and maintenance schedules.

Starting in November, carrier strike groups will deploy once every 36 months on cruises planned to last eight months. At a symposium Wednesday in Washington, Gortney said the longer maintenance cycle should allow for more consistency.

“We think eight months is about at the limit of a sustainable model to keep sailors and their families in the Navy,” Gortney told the Navy Times newspaper Wednesday. “Now eight months may sound like a long time. When I grew up, it was a six-month [deployment] — at the time ... we thought was the level. But that was a six-month in a 24-month turnaround.”

The plan replaces another floated by the Navy last year that would have sent carrier strike groups – carriers, air wings and the stable of ships that deploy with them – on two seven-month deployments every 36 months.

The Harry S. Truman strike group will be the first to shift to the 36 month rotation when it returns to Norfolk Naval Station from deployment later this year.

Under the new deployment plan, sailors will be home 68 percent of the time, Gortney said during the symposium. But that’s assuming global events don’t demand a surge in forces overseas, said Lt. Cmdr. Reann Mommsen, a Fleet Forces spokeswoman.

A year ago, the Pentagon relaxed its requirement of having two carriers deployed to the Persian Gulf at any given time. The new plan would maintain only one carrier in that region, Mommsen said.

Half of the Navy’s 10 aircraft carriers are stationed in Hampton Roads.
 

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