As New Carrier Deploys, It May Be Tasked to Fight Two Wars

Sailors load a close-in weapon system aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, April 6, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Andrew Langholf)
Sailors load a close-in weapon system aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, April 6, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Andrew Langholf)

The Arabian Gulf is temporarily without a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier as airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continue to wind down.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9, recently left the theater after a four-month rotation and arrived back in the Pacific, according to separate releases from the service in recent weeks.

During the deployment, aircraft from the Roosevelt marked a historic first, launching strikes against ISIS extremists while simultaneously striking the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But how the Navy's role will evolve in the two-pronged fight remains unknown.

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The USS Harry S. Truman is set to depart Wednesday for Europe and the Middle East, according to a release Monday. The carrier strike group -- including the Truman; the guided-missile cruiser Normandy; and the guided-missile destroyers Arleigh Burke, Bulkeley, Forrest Sherman and Farragut -- will operate in the 5th and 6th fleet areas of operations, the release said.

A specific timeline for the Truman's deployment in the two theaters was not given. Ahead of the deployment, officials maintain the U.S. 5th Fleet continues to support the Middle East.

"The Navy remains committed to supporting U.S. Central Command to ensure it has the capabilities it needs for maritime security in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command area of operations," Lt. Chloe Morgan, a spokesperson for NAVCENT, told Military.com.

"We are not going to discuss the timing of operational movements of carrier strike groups into and out of the CENTCOM area of responsibility," she said in a statement Monday.

The Roosevelt (CVN 71) was the first carrier ever to launch simultaneous missions in two separate geographic locations on the same day, the Navy said last month. Fighters from the carrier conducted strikes in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria and Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan.

According to a report from USNI News, which visited the carrier in March, Carrier Strike Group 9 had at that point flown 1,027 sorties in support of the ISIS fight and 12 in support of the war in Afghanistan. The outlet reported that Afghanistan missions largely consisted of dropping ordnance on enemy targets, while missions over Iraq and Syria were more focused on close-air support.

"The missions to Afghanistan are sort of right at the limits of what we want our aircrew flying at from a fatigue standpoint, but it's still within reach. And with the Air Force tanking support that gets us there, it's totally possible," Capt. Robert Loughran, deputy commander for the Air Wing, told the publication.

Morgan said CENTCOM is working with the Joint Staff "to ensure it has the joint capabilities it needs to continue all operations."

"In general, a carrier strike group is inherently a maneuver force that offers commanders the ability to flexibly respond to a wide variety of missions and contingencies, and is capable of being redeployed rapidly across U.S. Combatant Command boundaries," Morgan said Monday. "Their presence reassures allies and partners while deterring potential adversaries."

Carrier airstrikes have played a significant role in the fight against ISIS since its start in 2014. Between August 2014 and May 2017, the Navy's F/A-18 Super Hornets flew the most combat missions in Iraq and Syria, while Air Force F-15Es dropped the highest number of bombs, according to statistics provided by U.S. Air Force Central Command at the time.

"While the F/A-18 has supported the deliberate air campaign in Afghanistan, the preponderance of the [Combined Air Operations Center's] weight of effort for the F/A-18 is on OIR," Air Force spokeswoman Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli said.

"It's important to note, as we demonstrated with the Nov. 19, 2017, F-22 strike in Afghanistan, war is conditions-based and we retain the flexibility to send assets where needed in support of operations across the USCENTCOM AOR," she said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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