NORFOLK, Va. -- Tens of thousands of sailors in Hampton Roads would deploy more often -- but also, defense officials say, on a more predictable schedule -- under a plan the Navy hopes to launch by the end of next year.
The plan would overhaul deployment cycles of aircraft carrier strike groups, which have been stretched thin during more than a decade of war in the Middle East.
Under current operations, aircraft carrier crews spend months training for a single deployment that's billed to last six to seven months. But global demands often extend those cruises to eight or nine months, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy's chief of information.
That wouldn't be the case under the Navy's Enhanced Carrier Presence Plan, Kirby said this week in an online video announcing the proposal.
Instead, crews would go through one pre-deployment workup period to prepare for two seven-month deployments, with seven months at home in between cruises.
Today, carrier strike groups deploy once every 32 months. Under the new plan, the ships and their air wings would deploy twice every 36 months.
"You'll be at sea a little bit longer than you are now, but it will be on a much more predictable, stable schedule," Kirby said in the video, emphasizing that the change was still in the planning phases and would require additional funding from Congress.
The change promises a sense of stability for the Navy's fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers after a period of uncertainty, driven by war and budget cuts.
In February, the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed overseas just two months after returning to Norfolk from a six-month cruise -- part of a reshuffling of forces sparked by mechanical problems on a West Coast-based carrier.
A month earlier, the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman had its deployment canceled two days before the strike group was to ship out, a consequence of dwindling defense dollars.
Last August, the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln arrived in Norfolk after being away for 10 months -- including a grueling 105 days in the Arabian Sea -- on a deployment that was twice extended.
The new deployment cycle would mean more ships at sea at any given time, allowing the service to respond to crises without extending deployments or forcing ships to deploy unexpectedly.
Half of the Navy's 10 aircraft carriers are stationed in Hampton Roads.