The U.S. Navy announced on Tuesday that it is replacing the aircraft carrier it forward deploys in Japan with a more recently commissioned one, in what the Navy portrayed as part of its effort to strengthen the U.S. military posture in the region.
According to the press release announcing the decision, “the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) will replace USS George Washington (CVN 73) in Japan and become part of the U.S. 7th Fleet forward-deployed naval forces (FDNF) in Yokosuka, Japan.” The George Washington will return to Virginia to begin its mid-life refueling complex overhaul. The USS Theodore Roosevelt will be moved from Northfolk, Virginia to San Diego to replace the departing USS Ronald Reagan as the U.S. 3rd Fleet’s rotational carrier.
Explaining the rationale of the move, the statement said: “The security environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific requires that the U.S. Navy station the most capable ships forward. This posture allows the most rapid response times possible for maritime and joint forces, and brings our most capable ships with the greatest amount of striking power and operational capability to bear in the timeliest manner.”
The USS George Washington, which was commissioned in 1992, is the sixth carrier in the Nimitz class. In 2008, it became the first nuclear-powered carrier to be forward deployed in Japan, and has remained in Japan since then.
The USS Reagan is the eighth-carrier in the Nimitz class, having been commissioned in 2003 but not making its maiden voyage until three years later. Still, in this short time it has accumulated notable combat experience in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
It won’t be a new sight in the Western Pacific either. In January 2007, the U.S. Navy announced the Reagan Carrier Strike Group would surge deploy to the Western Pacific to relive the USS Kitty Hawk as it underwent maintenance in Japan. It next deployed to the region in 2008 to participate in the humanitarian assistance efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Fengshen. The USS Reagan again set sail for the Western Pacific in February 2011, and as such was able to quickly respond to Japan’s 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. In between these latter two deployments, the USS Reagan participated in the RIMPAC 2010 in Hawaii.
The ship rotation will not necessitate much in the way or air or personnel changes. The Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 will continue to be forward deployed in Japan as part of the 7th Fleet. Moreover, beyond two small groups of specialists, the carrier personnel will remain intact as sailors currently on the USS George Washington will transfer to the USS Ronald Reagan.
The carrier announcement comes just one day after the U.S. Air Force announced 12 F-22 Raptor fighter jets would be sent on a rotational deployment to Okinawa later this month. The statement noted that the U.S. Air Force has been rotating fighter jets in and out of the region since March 2004. The U.S. Air Force rotated a dozen F-22s through the region starting in January 2013 as well. Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy also announced the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Kidd (DDG 100) and USS Pinckney (DDG 91) would separately be deploying the Western Pacific on January 7.
Here’s a 2010 Canadian news program taking a tour of the USS Reagan. Ironically, the commanders on the ship repeatedly emphasize that the reason why the USS Reagan had then been designated the most combat ready carrier in the Fleet was because it had the best crew around, not because it was the largest and most technologically capable carrier at the time.