By Rear Adm. Jeff Harley
Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations, Plans and Strategy)
A few people have asked if the Navy will have a “carrier gap” in certain regions of the world this year.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has stated “Our Navy uniquely provides presence around the globe, around the clock – ensuring stability, deterring adversaries, and providing the nation’s leaders with options in times of crisis.” Presence means many things, but in the end it all goes back to ensuring the correct capability is available to each Combatant Commander.
Commanders continually review their theater force requirements and communicate with the Secretary of Defense, supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to ensure they have the capability to adequately address mission requirements and threats in the region. In short, there may be a short duration “carrier” gap, but Combatant Commanders and the Services work together to mitigate risk by minimizing or eliminating any “capability” gap. Think capabilities, not platforms.
It’s important to remember that capabilities can be supported by Air Force, Army, Marines and other nation partners who all contribute to a sizeable force in support of needed capabilities. Because of this, I can confidently say our Combatant Commanders work across all of the “capabilities” that are provided by the respective Services in order to ensure they have the combat power needed to address global missions and threats.
As for aircraft carriers, where and when they provide presence will be “where it matters, when it matters.” We’re currently using 10 carriers to meet an ever greater demand, but innovations such as the Optimized Fleet Response Plan are helping. In fiscal year 2016, I expect the global presence provided by our aircraft carrier to actually increase. This increase in presence is a direct result of creating a sustainable model that buys back readiness and surge capability while getting back to reasonable deployment lengths for our Fleet. Overall, the Navy plans to increase the number of deployed ships by more than 20 percent over the next five years.
When the Navy responded to increased Combatant Commander demand for carrier strike groups in fiscal years 2011, 2012 and 2013, we acknowledged that we would need to recover readiness in subsequent years. The increased frequency and extension of carrier strike group deployments increased wear on the force, which led to increased maintenance and repair requirements and lengthened maintenance availability periods. We now have a sustainable model of strike group operations and the bottom line is Naval presence continues to meet Department of Defense global presence allocations.