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The aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower will put its deployment on pause and will be back in port at Norfolk, Va., in time for Christmas.
But its time home will be brief.
After its flight deck is resurfaced it will re-deploy back to the Middle East, putting it on station for a total of 10 months.
Ike's departure from the 5th Fleet is leaving the John C. Stennis as the only carrier in the region until the spring, one carrier fewer than the Navy planned.
Bringing Ike back temporarily is an unusual move, but it gives the Navy time to finish unexpected repairs on the carrier Nimitz.
That ship was supposed to relieve the Eisenhower in 5th Fleet early next year. Two sources said that cooling pumps on the Nimitz's propulsion system needed repairs that could require two months to finish.
The Navy decisions will have a ripple effect across carrier strike group deployment schedules.
The Ike is, of course, the first carrier strike group to be affected. When it heads home, it will return with Carrier Air Wing 7 and cruiser Hue City. All will re-deploy early next year. But other ships in the Eisenhower strike group, including the destroyers Farragut, Winston S. Churchill and Jason Dunham will remain in 5th Fleet. Their deployment schedules will not change.
Meanwhile, the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, including Carrier Air Wing 3 and cruiser Gettysburg, will deploy early next year. The Truman ended a 16-month yard period in July.
Also, the carrier George H.W. Bush and Carrier Air Wing 8, the cruiser Philippine Sea, and destroyers Bulkeley, Roosevelt and Mason will all have an accelerated training and deployment schedule.
They are expected to leave in summer 2013.
While in Norfolk for two months, Ike's flight deck will be resurfaced. Air operations wear out carrier flight decks, and unless they are resurfaced, they will degrade below minimum standards and the carrier can't launch or recover aircraft. The Navy regularly resurfaces small portions of the decks in foreign ports, but rarely completes the entire surface.
This did occur in January 2003, during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, when the carrier Abraham Lincoln, which was already underway for months, diverted to Australia for a full resurfacing. The maintenance work allowed the carrier to participate in the beginning of the invasion and spend 291 days away from home.
In Ike's case, it made more sense to resurface the Eisenhower's entire flight deck in its homeport, a Navy official speaking on background said.
The Eisenhower and the rest of its strike group left June 20 for an expected nine-month deployment, an exceptionally long cruise, even after a decade of war when seven- and eight-month deployments had become a new norm. Fleet Forces Command said that Ike's extended time away would slow the operational tempo for the rest of the carrier Navy and give other ships time for maintenance, upgrades and repairs. Later, the Navy deployed the Stennis four months early, citing an ongoing need for a carrier in the Middle East.