The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group has held true to its nickname: the "Big Stick." The flattop has sortied committed its entire air wing forto Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition airstrikes against Islamic State group fighters spreading chaos across campaign that targets ISIS fighters and facilities in Iraq and Syria. While the strike group has seen its number of missions drop, the number of strikes is on the rise.
"There were some reports early on about some of the pilots being upset about flying missions but not able to expend any ordnance in areas that they probably should have been. We are no longer in that situation," said Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, strike group commander. "As we are seeing some of the new intel that's coming in, it's opening up opportunities for us to continue to hit right in the middle of their command and control [and] supply systems, which should go straight to degrading their military capabilities."
His aircraft have conducted more than 1,550 strike missions since taking point in mid-April. The number of warheads dropped and fired ordnance delivered tops 950 and "increasing on a daily basis," Kelley said in a Sept. 10 phone interview from the TR. with Navy Times. He is embarked on TR.
Carrier Air Wing 1 on Sept. 8 participated in "incredibly precise" coalition airstrikes that destroyed a stadium near Ramadi, Iraq, that served as an ISIS operating base and supply hub, he said. It housed large cachesamounts of homemade explosives, weapons, ammunition and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device components, officials said.
"Eighty 2,000-pound bombs were put into that stadium with some significant destruction, taking down one of the main supply areas that ISIS has in the northern Iraq area," Kelley said.
As of Sept. 8, the coalition has conducted 6,700 airstrikes (4,198 in Iraq and 2,502 in Syria) that have destroyed more than 10,000 tanks, staging areas, buildings, and fighting positions, according to Pentagon data. U.S. aircraft account for 5,239 of those airstrikes (2,858 in Iraq and 2,381 in Syria).
Ironically, OIR has kept the strike group from ramping up operations with trying out its newest weapon. This is the first deployment of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which is flown by Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 125, the Tigertails. It also is the first deployment of Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air, which networks the strike group’s air, surface, and underwater assets to provide situational awareness unmatched by modern technologies. In tandem with the E-2D, this cooperative targeting allows commanders to identify and destroy threats from distances well beyond the radar horizon.
With all aircraft dedicated to the OIR mission, "we are not getting to practice that as much as we would like," said Kelley, who is a fighter pilot by trade. "We are excited to get the chance to stretch her legs a little bit when we get out in the Pacific, and we can take advantage of the E-2D's capabilities linked up with the guided-missile cruiser Normandy. More to follow on that."
The strike group just hit the six-month mark on what is scheduled to be an eight and a one-half month cruise. Having enjoyed a couple of port calls, the sailors are "getting their second wind to make sure we finish up strong." Kelley said leaders are focused on making adjustments to overcoming the complacency that can set in is common at this point in a deployment.
The TRoosevelt, which set sail from Virginia on March 11, will eventually pass through 7th and 3rd Fleet on the way to her new home — Naval Base Coronado, California. Roughly 1,520 crew members will fly back to Norfolk to man the George Washington during its refueling and complex overhaul, which is scheduled for 2017. The cruiser Normandy, which was one of four ships that deployed with Roosevelt on the world cruise, will transit the Panama Canal and return to Norfolk.