USS George Washington will return to Japan in 2024, Navy confirms
Stars and Stripes April 28, 2023
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – The aircraft carrier USS George Washington will return next year to this naval base south of Tokyo, where it will replace the USS Ronald Reagan as the centerpiece of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s carrier strike group, the Navy announced Friday.
The move was first reported March 1 by Nikkei Asia, citing U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Brian Cunningham.
The George Washington is undergoing its mid-life nuclear refueling and maintenance at Newport News shipyard in Virginia. The Navy did not disclose the date the George Washington will arrive, but further details will be announced “closer to the actual movement of the carriers,” according to a news release Friday from Naval Forces Japan.
“The United States values Japan's contributions to the peace, security and stability of the Indo-Asia-Pacific and its long-term the release said. “These forces, along with their counterparts in the Japan Self-Defense Forces, make up the core capabilities needed by the alliance to meet our common strategic objectives.”
The carrier strike group now centered on the Ronald Reagan was previously led by the George Washington from 2008 to 2015. The carrier’s scheduled four-year refit began in 2017 but was significantly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other setbacks.
The refit includes refueling two nuclear reactors and “significant repairs, upgrades and modernization,” the Navy said.
“The Navy positions many of its most advanced capabilities in Japan in recognition of the importance of our alliance,” Naval Forces Japan spokeswoman Cmdr. Katie Cerezo told Stars and Stripes by email Friday. “This turnover will ensure continued carrier presence in the region.”
Following the George Washington’s arrival, the Ronald Reagan will relocate for maintenance to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., according to the release.
The Ronald Reagan has spent eight years in Yokosuka, approaching the 10-year limit for Navy ships deployed overseas.
Congress set the limit in the fiscal year 2019 Defense Department budget following the back-to-back collisions in 2017 of the destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald. Both had been based at Yokosuka more than a decade when they separately collided with commercial vessels.
More than 240 Navy families moved to Yokosuka in the months ahead of the George Washington’s arrival in 2008. When the Ronald Reagan replaced the George Washington in 2015, they swapped nearly two-thirds of their respective crews.
A spokesperson for the U.S. 7th Fleet did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
One upgrade to the George Washington is the ability to embark the MQ-25A Stingray, a 50-foot drone that can refuel other aircraft in flight and extend the carrier air wing’s range, Nikkei Asia reported March 1.
The Stingray can fly 500 nautical miles and deliver up to 16,000 pounds of fuel mid-air to F-18 Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers and F-35C Lightning II stealth fighters, according to manufacturer Boeing’s website.
The drone is the world’s first “operational, carrier-based unmanned aircraft” and a “critical part of the future” for carrier strike groups and air wings, according to U.S. Naval Air Systems Command.