"While operating in 5th Fleet, we flew 1,812 missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve — that is 10,618 flight hours," Capt. Craig Clapperton wrote. "Those missions delivered 1,100 precision guided weapons against ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq totaling more than 1,000,000 pounds of munitions."
"I'm sure you are all equally ready for your loved ones to return," Clapperton said. "I know all of us onboard the Big Stick are looking forward to our return home, but, before we get there, we still have quite a bit of work to do; that will help the time go by quickly."
The work includes an exercise in the Indian Ocean, Malabar, with the Indian navy, which will include the Japanese navy, a development that some have taken to show Japan is serious about taking a more active role in regional security in the face of a more assertive China.
"We've conducted more than 22 underway replenishments, received 14.5 million gallons of jet fuel and more than 3,500 pallets of stores, ammunition and mail. Through all that, we have traveled 26,840 miles."
Straining under the weight of excess demand and maintenance backlogs, the Navy has been forced to extend deployments repeatedly. A new force-generation plan, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, has been devised to bring predictability back to the fleet, easing the burden on sailors and families, and allowing the shipyards to better plan hiring and managing the workload of maintaining the ships.
"Ultimately, this is a pay-me-now or pay-me-later discussion," said Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, the deputy head of the Navy's operations, plans and strategy office. "If we are not given time to reset the force through OFRP, and are forced to source beyond sustainable levels, we will remain challenged in all of these areas."
"This is not easy work that we are doing," he said. "I agree with Adm. Greenert that seven months is, I think, a sustainable goal. I think it is achievable. I am committed to getting down to this seven-month deployment."
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.