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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – A decision hasn’t been made on when the USS George Washington will leave Japan for a multiyear overhaul, Navy officials said Monday, following Japanese media speculation that the aircraft carrier would be replaced in 2015.

Citing unnamed sources, the Asahi Shimbun reported Saturday that the Yokosuka-based ship would leave and that the USS Ronald Reagan was its likely replacement.

“We’re aware of the recent speculation concerning the possible return of USS George Washington to the United States for refueling and overhaul,” Cmdr. KC Marshall, spokesman for Commander Naval Forces Japan, said Monday. “However, no decision has been made concerning when USS George Washington will return to the United States for its [overhaul].”

All Nimitz-class carriers undergo extensive overhauls, including a replenishment of nuclear fuel, at roughly the halfway point of their projected lifespans. The USS George Washington was commissioned in 1992.

On Feb. 19, Naval Sea Systems Command issued a notice for subcontractors interested in working on the USS George Washington’s overhaul with main contractor Huntington Ingalls. The notice calls for advance planning efforts from fiscal 2014-2016.

A mid-life carrier overhaul generally takes about three years and has to be done in the United States. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is nearing the end of a 39-month overhaul that began in 2010, according to the ship’s website.

The George Washington’s overhaul could also be affected by the uncertainty surrounding the Defense Department’s budget in the coming years. The sequestration that took effect March 1, after Congress could not agree on targeted spending cuts, calls for tens of billions in lower spending annually through 2021. Earlier this year, refueling for the USS Abraham Lincoln was delayed for about six weeks when Congress could not agree on a 2013 defense budget.

In 2011, several analysts speculated that the Navy might retire the George Washington in 2016 as a cost-saving move, though talk of such a move has since dissipated.

Whenever the George Washington does head to the U.S. for its overhaul, it is unlikely that the United States is planning to leave Japan without a forward-deployed carrier. The Pentagon and the Obama administration have each referred to the Asia-Pacific region as the nation’s top long-term foreign policy priority.

The George Washington arrived in Yokosuka in 2008 as a replacement for the USS Kitty Hawk, which was retired.

slavin.erik@stripes.comTwitter: @eslavin_stripes

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