The Navy is showing signs of progress in its fight to reigning in the overlong deployments that have heavily strained the fleet for the past three years.
The amphibious assault ship Makin Island and her escorts arrived in San Diego Feb. 25 after seven months at sea, for example, a deployment that included strike missions over Iraq. That's way down from the It was just three years ago that the Bataan amphibious ready group's return from a marathon, 321-day deployment three years ago — one of the longest Navy deployments since the end of World War II.
Seven-months deployments are to be the standard for gators, and the rest of the fleet will follow suit over the next two years, the Navy's top officer told sailors at a Pearl Harbor all-hands call that this would be the new normal for amphibious ready groups, and that the rest of the fleet would follow suit over the next two years.
"Today the [carrier Carl] Vinson is on deployment in the Arabian Gulf, she's on a 9.5-month deployment," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said, adding that the service got to nine-month deployments stemmed, in part, from maintenance backlogs caused by heavy sequestration budget cuts.
Machinery Repairman Fireman Nicholas Siegrist works in the machine shop of the carrier Carl Vinson. The aircraft carrier, which is supporting Operation Inherent Resolve and strike operations in Iraq and Syria, will be deployed 9.5 months.
Photo Credit: MC2 Scott Fenaroli/Navy
"Now as we've had stable budgets, we're getting that work done on the carriers, on the ships, on the airplanes, and we're still shaking out the effects of [sequestration]. Vinson will be on a 9.5-month deployment. She'll be followed by Teddy Roosevelt, which will be on an 8.5-month deployment. The carriers after that will be on seven-month deployments."
Greenert said the plan for shortening carrier strike group deployments is gaining steam.pulling back deployments, known as the optimized fleet response plan, is taking hold.
"We are going to seven-month deployments," he said, emphatically. "The system is in place. We can do this."
The plan to reign in deployments was designed, shaped and championed by former Fleet Forces Command boss Adm. Bill Gortney, now the head of combatant commander for U.S. Northern Command, Adm. Bill Gortney. But initially It was initially met with widespread skepticism and some scoffs in the fleet among by those who thought the Navy couldn't catch up because of heavy demands from combatant commanders, four-star officers who oversee operations around the world.
Greenert, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill Feb. 26, said he's been working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reign in the COCOM demands of the force.
"We've gone down to the Joint Staff with this process called the global force management allocation plan and said, 'We believe this is a sustainable presence plan … and inherent in that is a seven month deployment,' and they said 'OK.' So that's what we've laid out. … But we believe that, again, we need a stable budget, we need this manning, organization and training, and with that I think we can get to seven months."
Two sources familiar with the internal deliberations said Greenert has been working with the Joint Chiefs and the COCOMs combatant commanders to both reign in and head off heavy demands on the force to bring down deployment lengths.
He has also leaned heavily on FFCleet Forces Command, now led by former 6thSixth Fleet boss Adm. Phil Davidson, to shorten deployments, sources said.
Originally, Gortney was preaching eight-month deployments, but talking points changed abruptly after Greenert came out in opposition to eight months in October.
"We cannot do eight-month deployments over and over and over again," Greenert said in a speech to sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, which returned from an eight-month cruise in late 2013. "It's regrettable that you had to do it."
As he approaches the end of his three-year CNO tour as CNO, he has also been more vocal about holding back forces that aren't prepared to deploy.
During an all-hands call in mid-October, he told sailors he would oppose going to a two-carrier presence in 5th Fleet to support operations against the Islamic State group and in Afghanistan, saying that those missions could be conducted by the ships already there.
Greenert went further in his Kearsarge speech, saying his goal is to get deployments down to seven months in the next two years and that the service's maintenance backlog is beginning to ease.
"We're almost out of that and we should be back at what I think is a sweet spot at seven-month deployments by early [fiscal year] 2016," Greenert said.
He warned that the fleet is very close to a "red line" for the diminishing amount of home time fleet sailors are seeing.
"Our op-tempo is higher ... time at home has [reduced] from 63, 64 percent to about 52, 53 percent," he said. "So we want to get that back up to 63, 64, 67 percent time at home during a 36-month [cycle]."