The fleet is losing one of its 10 carrier air wings this fall, and with it thousands of personnel and dozens of aircraft will be scattered to plus-up the rest of the fleet.
If the 2017 budget plan is approved, the carrier air wing will begin its shutdown in October, Navy spokesman Lt. j.g. Kara Yingling told Navy Times.
The one to go is Carrier Air Wing 14, based out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, which hasn't deployed since 2011 or been fully staffed since 2013.
Squadrons have rotated in and out since then, Naval Air Forces spokeswoman Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld told Navy Times.
The ones that will leave the wing are:
- Strike Fighter Squadron 15 out of Naval Air Station Oceana. It's the Navy's oldest legacy F/A-18 Hornet squadron, and the aircraft could end up at training squadrons or in the reserve, Groeneveld said, after the squadron shuts down.
- Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 112 at Naval Base Ventura, California, to shutter in fiscal 2017.
- Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 15 out of Naval Station North Island, California, slated to be disbanded in fiscal 2017.
- Electronic Attack Squadron 134 at Whidbey Island, Washington. This squadron will not deactivate, but will become a land-based expeditionary squadron that will deploy with detachments, Groeneveld said.
- Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 76, which cancels the planned 2017 stand-up of the squadron in Jacksonville, Florida.
The squadrons were chosen based on where they were in their training cycles, their transitions to newer airframes and which coast they were on, with respect to the strategic rebalance, Groeneveld said.
For naval aviation, she added, it means less dwell time in deployment cycles, because there won't be an extra wing for a carrier that won't deploy.
"As carriers go through availabilities, we're not going to see a squadrons' readiness go down in the meantime," she said.
The decision to do away with the Navy's tenth CVW was based on several factors, Yingling said: Efficiency from the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, predictable carrier maintenance schedules, increased training phase readiness and fiscal constraints.
"Where applicable, the aircraft will be redistributed within existing squadrons in order to support enduring fleet requirements," she said.
The sailors who work on them, many of whom are reservists, will be reassigned accordingly.
"With the introduction of a new distribution system for our enlisted sailors, they will be re-distributed within the type model series they were trained in," Yingling said. "There would a gradual decrease in the number of sailors assigned to the squadrons until the units are officially disestablished."
The change is part of the Navy's continuous assessment of how to position its forces, Naval Air Forces boss Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said in a statement.
"Restructuring to nine carrier air wings is the most efficient use of those operational forces to meet global requirements," he said. "Carrier strike group warfighting readiness and operational availability also improve by providing predictable rotations for squadrons, while reducing excessive time between deployments when carriers undergo lengthy maintenance availabilities."
Strike fighter moves
Shutting down CVW 14 could make a small dent in the Navy's F/A-18 gap, if the serviceable aircraft are sent to other active squadrons.
Right now, the gap means fewer flying hours during the basic and maintenance phases of the training cycle, air warfare director Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told Navy Times in November.
Into the 2020s, the Navy is staring down a possible aircraft 138-aircraft gap, unless they can overhaul enough Hornets and Super Hornets and buy enough new planes to stop it.
The 2017 budget proposal lays out a plan to buy 16 more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets — two in 2017 and 14 in 2018, a big bump considering last year's budget asked for none.
"The extra Super Hornets over the next several years covers the slide of F-35C initial operating capability to the right," Manazir said in a Feb. 4 House Armed Services subcommittee hearing.
The service has also ramped up its F-35C procurement schedule, a request Defense Secretary Ash Carter made explicitly to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a December memo.
The Navy had planned to purchase four F-35s a year until it hit IOC in 2018, bumping the buy up to eight, 10 and 12 from 2018 to 2020.
Now, the plan is six joint strike fighters this year, followed by four in 2017, another six in 2018, and then 12, 18 and 24 in the following years.