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USS Nimitz, not needed for storm relief, will head home to Washington

USS Nimitz on deployment Oct. 26, 2013.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz almost had its unusually long, nearly 9-month deployment extended to help relief efforts in the Philippines, but improving road conditions mean a carrier presence isn’t needed much longer, top Navy officials said Tuesday.

Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Harry Harris ordered the Japan-based aircraft carrier USS George Washington to interrupt its Western Pacific patrol and head to the Philippines days after Typhoon Haiyan roared ashore Nov. 8.

The Nimitz, which is on its way back to its homeport in Everett, Wash., was next in line.

“[USS Nimitz] is going by the Philippines now, and, I’ll be honest with you, I thought about holding her there in order to do some work there, depending on the severity and type of the relief operations in the Philippines,” Harris said during a visit Tuesday with sailors at Yokosuka Naval Base. “I did not have to do that.”

The Nimitz originally planned to head home in August after wrapping up operations in support of Afghanistan. However, the Pentagon ordered the ship to the Red Sea in September following revelations of chemical weapons use in Syria. The ship was then detoured to the Mediterranean Sea in October for joint training exercises.

The global demands on the Nimitz’s presence underscore a growing trend among Navy carriers and other ships toward longer deployments. The service finds itself with 34 fewer ships than in 2000, and several billion dollars less than it planned for because of federal budget sequestration.

However, Navy commanders say the demands for those ships has either remained steady, or in the case of the Pacific, increased due to North Korean threats and territorial disputes among Western Pacific nations. Those demands mean that the Navy’s Global Force Management must shuffle ships around the world as needed, and carriers are more likely to extend beyond six-month deployments.

“The Pacific will not be exempt from longer deployments, just like the rest of the Navy … if there’s a requirement for an aircraft carrier to meet the numbers required in Central Command, it may fall under the Pacific fleet to fill that requirement,” Harris said.

USS George Washington, the lone US carrier providing Philippine aid, is expected to remain for roughly two more days, 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. William Marks said Tuesday.

The USS Germantown and USS Ashland are scheduled to arrive Wednesday and assume the lead on relief duties, Marks said.

slavin.erik@stripes.com

Twitter.com/@eslavin_stripes

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