USS George Washington (CVN-73) will return to Japan as the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier once it completes a four-year Refueling and Complex Overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding, USNI News has learned.
Included in the House Armed Services Committee chairman’s mark of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act is language referencing a plan to send George Washington back to U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan. Before entering its RCOH, the carrier spent seven years operating from Yokosuka.
The language is included in proposed legislation that would require the first MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based aerial refueling tankers be deployed on George Washington, “to ensure that our only forward deployed carrier is equipped with the first carrier-based UAV.”
A legislative aide confirmed to USNI News that George Washington will return to Japan following its RCOH and that the current forward-deployed carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), will return to the U.S.
At the time of this posting, Navy officials had acknowledged a USNI News request for comment but had not immediately responded.
George Washington entered drydock in August to start the four-year midlife repair. George Washington’s move to Newport News was part of a three-carrier homeport swap, which sent USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to San Diego while Ronald Reagan left the West Coast to replace George Washington in Japan.
Last year, the Naval Air System Command told USNI News the first two carriers to be equipped with the data links and ground control stations for MQ-25A would be USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77).
George Washington is expected to complete its RCOH and leave the Newport News shipyard in 2021. With the MQ-25 likely not ready to deploy until the mid-2020s, George Washington will be back in Japan before receiving the first MQ-25As.
What’s not known is where Ronald Reagan will move to once George Washington returns to Japan. USS John Stennis (CVN-74), homeported in Bremerton, Wash., will be the next carrier to enter RCOH.
In January, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics submitted concepts for the Navy to consider. The Navy has been vague about the requirements, but USNI News understands the service’s basic requirements will have the Stingray deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel up to 500 nautical miles from the carrier.
The Navy’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request plans to spend $719 million on MQ-25 research and development. The Navy plans to make its first purchase in 2023, and initial operational capability is expected in FY 2026.