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Navy Defends Middle East Carrier-Gap Concern

The Navy will increase its global carrier presence next year despite numerous reports it will experience a Middle East carrier-gap as soon as this Fall, service officials said.

Navy officials said continuous carrier presence in certain regions around the globe will decrease in some regions as the service pulls back to conduct maintenance and recover from an extremely high op-tempo in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“Although the Navy is not scheduled to provide a continuous carrier presence in fiscal year 2016 in some regions, we actually expect the global presence of aircraft carriers to increase. It's also important to keep in mind that Military leaders continually review force requirements and adjust global force management plans accordingly,” Navy spokesman Lt. Tim Hawkins told Military.com.

A temporary reduction in continuous presence in certain areas does not mean there will be a decrease in overall global presence, Hawkins was clear to emphasize.

However, it does seem unusual for reports to indicate that a continuous carrier presence might decrease in the Middle East, given the ongoing naval involvement in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Some lawmakers and analysts have expressed concern that the Navy may cut back on continuous carrier presence in strategically vital parts of the world where there is ongoing conflict.

Hawkins did not confirm or deny that a decreased continuous presence would in fact impact the Middle East but did say the force will need to recover readiness.

"The Navy will continue to meet Department of Defense global requirements. If there is a hotspot or emerging situation, we will be there. We acknowledged that we would need to recover readiness in subsequent years. So this is what we're doing today. The increased frequency and extension of carrier strike group deployments in previous years increased wear on the force, which led to increased maintenance and repair requirements and lengthened maintenance availability periods,” Hawkins said.

Part of the reduction in continuous presence in some areas is due to the fact that the Navy will be operating a fleet of 10 carriers until the 11th, the USS Ford, officially arrives next year.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com

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