Interesting. OPNAV NOTICE 5400 (PDF) from August 1st is worth a few comments.
1. Purpose. To approve the change in permanent duty station (PDS) for Carrier Strike Group (CSG) NINE per reference (a).The deactivation of CSG-7 brings the total number of carrier strike groups to nine, and there is no reason to believe the Navy will operate more than nine carrier strike groups for the next several years, despite the US Navy currently owning 11 carriers. This is one example of where budget cuts to the Navy are already having impacts.
2. Background. Per POM-12 guidance, Navy will resource and align CSG staffs equal to the number of operational CVNs. CSG-9 will change PDS from Everett, WA to San Diego, CA and will change carrier assignment from USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72) to USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN-76). LINCOLN will shift homeport from Everett, WA to Newport News, VA for Refueling and Complex Overhaul in August 2012. CSG-9 will be reassigned to REAGAN, homeported in San Diego, replacing CSG-7 due to CSG-7 deactivation.
The key word in POM12 guidance is "operational CVNs." Neither USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) nor USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) are being considered operational right now because of Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) will not complete her RCOH until around September of next year, and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) won't begin her RCOH until sometime next year and will not be considered operational again until sometime in 2015. The key point is that the Navy appears to be skipping a deployment for USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), probably to save more money.
With the retirement of USS Enterprise (CVN-65) looming after one more deployment, the Navy will simply transfer the CSG-12 from Enterprise to Roosevelt after the deployment, allowing the number of CSGs to remain 9 until the USS Ford (CVN 78) is ready - which may not be until all the way out until 2017-2018 time frame as shake downs for the first in class tend to take awhile. That basically allows the Navy to buy time and keep only 9 Carrier Strike Groups all the way out until after the complex overhaul of USS George Washington (CVN-73) - in the 2018 time frame.
Why is this important? Because the Navy will only maintain 9 CSGs for the next 7-8 years instead of 10 CSGs, even though throughout some portions of that time the Navy will have 10 or even 11 available (not operational) aircraft carriers. This simple organizational move means the Navy doesn't have to support an extra air wing for awhile, and limits the total F-18 fighter shortfall so the Navy doesn't have to buy that extra wing either. The Navy is also avoiding the costs of supporting the personnel of the extra air wing, and this move also buys extra time for working out problems with the F-35C.
The law may say the Navy must operate 11 aircraft carriers, with an exception for the drop to 10 aircraft carriers after the retirement of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and the completion of USS Ford (CVN 78), but as far as the Navy is concerned there will only be nine operational carriers for most of this decade.
These are the efficiency moves the Navy is doing to shave costs during lean budgets, but note this move is in response to the cuts already made - not the future cuts coming. Operations and readiness are almost certainly going to take a hit with budget cuts, because they always do. Little moves like this - organizing below actual capacity - is a way to avoid hollowing the force in the short term, but it does result over time in contracting the force.