The Defense Department has reauthorized a program that pays sailors who spend more than 220 days at sea extra, but it will expire after one year instead of two as the Navy requested.
Sailors receive a prorated bonus of $495 a month for an extended deployment, or $16.50 for each day beyond 220 days.
The hardship duty pay program was first authorized for two years in 2014 when deployments were regularly stretching to nine and 10 months. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, a typical deployment lasted about six months.
"This is something that the Navy wants for our sailors as we believe it positively affects sailors' morale," Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, said in a statement. "It's one small way to help them during long and difficult deployments away from home."
The Navy has doled out $15.5 million to more than 23,000 sailors from about 1,100 units since the program's inception, according to Navy Personnel Command.
The decision was made to keep the program to one year so defense officials could evaluate how well it is working, but it's unclear how the effectiveness of the program will be determined. Morale can be difficult to quantify and a variety of factors may shape it. A Defense Department memo authorizing the program only said a report on the effectiveness of the program should be submitted by Aug. 1, two months before it expires.
It's also unclear how many people may benefit from the pay in the future. The Navy wants its standard deployments to last seven months as part of its optimized fleet response plan.
But the first time an aircraft carrier deployed under that plan, the USS Harry S. Truman's deployment was extended 30 days so it could continue conducting strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria until the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived to relieve it.
The Truman and the other ships in its strike group arrived back this summer and more than 4,000 sailors in the strike group qualified for extended deployment pay. Navy officials have said they're committed to seven-month deployments going forward. If that plan holds, the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group will return to Norfolk in December.