Roosevelt Heads Home, Leaving Navy Without a Carrier Near Middle East

NORFOLK -- The aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt has exited the Persian Gulf on its way to its new home in San Diego and, for the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. doesn't have a carrier on station near the Middle East.

The reasons behind the rare gap in carrier deployments are complicated but at the simplest level boil down to two things: maintenance and money.

The carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower was scheduled to replace the Roosevelt this fall, but that ship needed an extra 10 months at Norfolk Naval Shipyard to catch up on maintenance -- a delay compounded by federal budget cuts and a shortfall of civilian workers.

Instead, the Norfolk-based carrier Harry S. Truman -- originally slated to deploy next summer -- was ordered to ramp up its training and maintenance schedule so it could deploy in the Eisenhower's place. Even under the accelerated timetable, it won't be ready for several more weeks.

That means the U.S. will go as long as two months without a carrier in the region, even as the military continues its campaign of airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Officials at the Pentagon, who've had months to prepare for the deployment gap, say the lack of a carrier won't have a significant impact because the Air Force can send additional land-based aircraft to the region. Navy jets flying off carriers account for about 20 percent of the airstrikes against the Islamic State group, officials say.

U.S. commanders in the Middle East "are confident they have the necessary combat power" to continue the mission until the Truman arrives, said Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a Navy spokesman.

The Roosevelt left the Navy's 5th Fleet -- the region that encompasses the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean -- on Tuesday.

The departure marked the first time since 2007 there was no U.S. carrier in the area.

The Roosevelt, which deployed from Norfolk in the spring, is moving to San Diego as part of a three-carrier homeport swap. The Ronald Reagan is moving from San Diego to Japan to replace the George Washington, which is on its way to Hampton Roads to begin its midlife overhaul in Newport News.

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