This post has been updated with a statement from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.).
The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group left Naval Base Kitsap last week for a deployment and an eventual homeport change with no public notice, a U.S. official confirmed to USNI News on Monday.
USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) left the base in Bremerton, Wash., on Oct. 15 for deployment and a shift in homeport to the East Coast “without much fanfare,” according to a report in the Kitsap Sun.
The ship and its complement of more than 3,000 sailors are currently off the coast of California along with carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and amphibious warship USS Boxer (LHD-4), USNI News has learned. The ships are operating in the training area off of Southern California and are expected to conduct a final exercise before the Stennis strike group heads toward the Western Pacific and the Middle East. Stennis is expected to deploy with Carrier Air Wing 9 based in Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif.
The Navy is not publically acknowledging much about the deployment.
“Stennis is underway, operating in the 3rd Fleet area of operations. However, we don’t discuss future operations,” spokesman Cmdr. John Fage told USNI News in a Monday statement.
Following the deployment, Stennis will begin its four-year mid-life refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) at Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
The carrier had completed a planned incremental availability (PIA) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Wash., last year and has been training with aircraft and ships ahead of the deployment for the last several months. The carrier returned to Bremerton in September after a qualification exercise off of San Diego before its most recent departure.
Stennis’ move is part of a three-carrier shuffle that will put USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) in Washington for a planned maintenance period and shift USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) to San Diego.
The deployment of Stennis is the second major naval task group recently to deploy from the West Coast without any formal Navy acknowledgment. Earlier this year, the Essex Amphibious Ready Group deployed from Naval Station San Diego with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Group with about 5,000 sailors and Marines.
Several sources have told USNI News over the last several months that U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino has instituted policies such as not announcing major ship movements aimed at changing public expectations as to the information they can expect on deployments.
The Navy as a whole has communicated less about ship movements in recent months, citing the need to remain unpredictable under the dynamic force employment model it rolled out in tandem with Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s National Defense Strategy that calls for U.S. forces to be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable.
However, at least one member of Congress on the House Armed Services Committee thinks the public could get more information on the Navy’s global work without sacrificing security.
“Secretary Mattis is right to keep our adversaries on edge about where and when key ships will deploy,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) told USNI News in a Monday statement. “Within this new model, however, there is plenty of space for Navy leadership to communicate directly to the public about why these ships are deploying, the role they play in strengthening our national security, and why Americans should be proud of their Navy. Contextualizing deployments for the public does not have to be at odds with operational security.”