The Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group deployed over the weekend, and if the news reports are accurate the ship is being deployed to the Middle East to, among other things, fight pirates. The Eisenhower CSG is made up of the following ships:
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69)Also getting mention as part of the deployment is the USS Stout (DDG 55). News reports are suggesting the ship will be deploying at a later date. It is unclear why the USS Stout (DDG 55) is delayed in deployment, but it is noteworthy that USS Stout (DDG 55) is one of two AEGIS ballistic missile defense ships on the East coast, the other being the USS Ramage (DDG 61) currently forward deployed with the Iwo Jima CSG.
USS Gettysburg (CG 64)
USS Vicksburg (CG 69)
USS Bainbridge (DDG 96)
USS Halyburton (FFG 40)
USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198)
USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2)
There are currently two strike groups forward deployed to the Middle East region (5th Fleet AOR), the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. The TRCSG deployed September 8th, 2008 while the Iwo Jima ESG deployed on August 6th, 2008. The Pacific based Boxer ESG deployed back in early January and is in the Indian Ocean, and should replace the Iwo Jima ESG sometime over the next week or two, and the Eisenhower CSG should arrive to the 5th Fleet region sometime in late March to relieve the Roosevelt CSG.
Also forward deployed at this time is the Stennis CSG in the Pacific, which made news last month when it was revealed the strike group was carrying a large number of modern helicopters, which one would presume is to fight piracy. That was before North Korea decided to test the patience of the new administration.
The Eisenhower CSG deployment is unusual. This is the first time an east coast Carrier Strike Group has deployed in the first 6 months of the year since the George Washington (CVN 73) carrier strike group deployed to the Middle East in January 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Over the past 5 years, carrier strike groups would deploy from the Pacific theater in the first 6 months of the year while the Atlantic fleet carriers would deploy in the last 6 months of the year, but this deployment breaks that pattern.
While the Eisenhower CSG deployment appears aligned with schedule, it does highlight the difficulties the Navy is facing in regards to keeping East coast aircraft carrier availability up. The Navy currently lists six aircraft carriers on the East coast; USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), and USS Enterprise (CVN 65); however numbers are decieving. The USS Enterprise (CVN 65) will not complete its current extended docking availability until at least August. The USS Carl Vison (CVN 70) is still undergoing her nuclear refueling downtime, which will keep the ship unavailable throughout the rest of the year. While there was good news from the builders trials of the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), the ship was commissioned before she was ever tested at sea, and will not actually be available to the fleet for her first deployment until either late 2010 or early 2011.
The results mean the east coast actually only has three aircraft carriers available, and with the deployment of USS Eisenhower (CVN 69) to replace USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), two of those three aircraft carriers are currently on deployment. That leaves only the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on the east coast available, and that is somewhat misleading as well, since it was only last week that USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) completed its first sea trials after being in the drydock for 7 months. In other words, it will be no sooner than 6 months before Truman is ready to deploy again based on traditional training schedules.