Admiral: Carrier Lincoln’s Middle East Mission Will Be Extended

October 25, 2019 2:43 PM
An MH-60S Knight Hawk helicopter attached to the Nightdippers of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 5 flies by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) during a search and rescue training exercise on Oct. 13, 2019. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Lincoln Carrier Strike Group will remain on station in the Middle East while its relief carrier is still undergoing unexpected repairs on the East Coast, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke said.

“She’s just over eight months right now because, as always, the world gets a vote,” he said during the Military Reporters and Editors conference on Friday.
“Every sailor knows the world gets a vote, and we’re going to stay and do the job until they’re properly relieved.”

As of Thursday, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was operating in the North Arabian Sea. While the Navy is planning for the carrier to be extended, it’s unclear if Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has signed the order to formally extend the deployment.

A Pentagon spokesperson did not have any additional details when contacted by USNI News on Friday.

Leaders aboard the carrier told families to anticipate the extension over social media over the weekend.

“Our time here has been extended again, and we have to stay on station here a little longer,” Lincoln commander Capt. Walter Slaughter said in a Saturday video message to families of the strike group posted on the ship’s Facebook page.
“I’ve always told the crew that world events are going to have a vote in our schedule, and a couple of days ago they voted and we’re going to have to stay here just a little bit longer.”

Slaughter’s message was first reported by The Virginian Pilot.

The extension, approved by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, is required if a carrier’s deployment will extend past seven months.

Earlier this month, that the U.S. was sending additional troops to Saudi Arabia at the request of U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie following the suspected of attack by Iranian forces on Saudi oil facilities.

On Oct. 11, the Pentagon announced the following forces would move to Saudi Arabia:

  • Two Fighter Squadrons
  • One Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW)
  • Two Patriot Batteries
  • One Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD)

Lincoln deployed from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on April 1 and was scrambled to CENTCOM in May in response to what then-National Security Advisor John Bolton referred to as a “number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

Since then, the ship has been on station in the Gulf of Oman and the North Arabian Sea while occasionally pulling in to Duqm, Oman, for port calls.

Lincoln’s likely relief, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), is currently pierside undergoing repairs for extensive electrical problems that are likely to extend at least into November.

“We’re pretty close to finishing the work,” Naval Sea Systems Command commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
“I think it’s measured in weeks, not months, at this point.”

Upon leaving the Middle East, Lincoln will head to its new homeport at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., as part of a previously announced three-carrier homeport swap.

If Abraham Lincoln returned to the U.S. as initially scheduled, the Navy would not have any carrier strike group deployed to the Middle East for weeks as a heightened sense of tension with Iran envelops the region.

Gaps in carrier deployments, though, are becoming more common. During the summer of 2018, the Navy went 22 days without a full carrier strike group deployed anywhere in the world. In general, carrier deployments have declined in frequency to rates the Navy last experienced as the Cold War ended in the early 1990s.

Currently, the Navy has a carrier readiness jam that spurred the Joint Force to extend Abraham Lincoln’s deployment. Last month, aircraft carrier Truman missed its expected deployment departure after experiencing an electrical distribution system failure. Instead of heading out to sea and being in a position to relieve Abraham Lincoln in the Middle East, Truman is undergoing repairs in Norfolk.

Truman’s crew was told to expect a late November departure, at the earliest, as work fixing the electrical problem continues.

However, the other ships from the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group left their homeports on September 12 to form a Surface Action Group, USNI News previously reported. The SAG had been operating without the carrier near the Arctic Circle, and U.S. 2nd Fleet established a temporary expeditionary Maritime Operations Center in Keflavik, Iceland, the Navy reported.

Of the Navy’s Atlantic Coast carriers, Abraham Lincoln is deployed to the Middle East and is in the process of shifting to being based in San Diego. The following six carriers are in various states of maintenance or training.

  • Truman is undergoing electrical repairs, and the Navy intends to deploy it as soon as repairs are completed, U.S. Fleet Forces Command told USNI News.
  • USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) was operating off the East Coast of the U.S. performing a Tailored Ship’s Training Availability and Final Evaluation Problem. This is an early step in the work-up for an upcoming deployment designed to ready the ship and crew for integration into a carrier strike group.
  • USS George Washington (CVN-73) is a little more than halfway through its mid-life refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) at Newport News Shipbuilding and unable to leave port.
  • USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) finished a nearly eight-month deployment in May by shifting homeports to Naval Station Norfolk from Bremerton, Wash. Stennis is next in line for its RCOH and is already undergoing early work with Newport News Shipbuilding teams.
  • USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) entered what was to be a 10-month maintenance availability at Norfolk Naval Station that is now expected to last 28 months.
  • USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is in a post-shakedown availability that has been extended multiple times as crewmembers and shipyard workers are trying to fix a problem with the ship’s propulsion system and certify the carrier’s weapons elevators.

Extending a carrier strike group deployment is not unprecedented. But, the Navy had wanted to get in the practice of using an Optimized Fleet Response Plan construct, built on a 36-month cycle involving a seven-month deployment and about 29-months of training, maintenance and surge capacity. Along with OFRP, the Navy had touted a supply-based model of providing carriers to the joint force, rather than a demand-based one that often stretched the Navy too thin during years of requiring two carriers in the Middle East.

In 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter extended Truman’s deployment by 30 days. On April 29, 2016, the Navy announced the Truman CSG would remain in U.S. 5th Fleet for an extra month to support Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS.

Truman departed from Naval Station Norfolk in November 2015 and had been expected to return at the end of May or early June 2016. Instead, Truman returned to Norfolk on July 13, 2016, after more than 200 days at sea.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox