NORFOLK, Va. — The aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman put back to sea on Saturday, exactly three months after the warship returned home from one the most unique deployments in years.
That was a test run of the Dynamic Force Employment plan created by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to keep potential enemies guessing about where and when carrier crews will deploy overseas.
The Truman’s cruise lasted from April 11 to Dec. 16 last year but it included a Norfolk pit stop in July that officials termed a “working port visit” before heading out again.
This time, the carrier isn’t expected to wander too far from Virginia.
It just completed a routine Continuous Maintenance Availability in Norfolk and as the designated reserve carrier for the East Coast the crew is still in its “sustainment phase.” That means they have to be ready to sail off on a combat deployment, if necessary, so it’s back to training.
“Truman is heading out for a scheduled independent steaming event to get the crew’s feet wet after a couple of months home,” Naval Air Forces Atlantic spokesman Cmdr. Dave Hecht told Navy Times.
“She’ll get used to operating at sea again and will do some carrier qualifications again with the local C-2 [Carrier Onboard Delivery] squadrons, but I can’t tell you how long she’ll be gone, or where she’ll go.”
The Truman is still slated to enter a longer and more rigorous maintenance availability period later this year before starting its pre-deployment training portion of the Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan.
Truman’s a busy carrier.
In early 2014, it finished a nearly nine-month cruise that took it to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
In late 2015, just over 18 months later, Truman sailed back to wage war in Iraq and Syria before returning on July 13, 2016.
And then came the back-and-forth deployments last year.
Despite the Truman’s frequent use overseas, a debate continues to swirl at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill about the flattop’s future.
With the latest Fiscal Year 2020 budget request, military officials telegraphed a request to skip the ship’s Refueling and Complex Overhaul session.
During an RCOH — which arrives roughly 25 years into the service life of a Nimitz-class carrier — shipyard workers refuel the reactors and revamp other parts of the warship
Mothballing the Truman instead of refueling it would free up funds for investing in the new Gerald R. Ford-class carriers, stealthy submarines or a growing fleet of underwater, air and surface drones.
But it remains unclear how Congress will handle the Navy’s latest request to retire the Truman.
A few years ago, however, the Pentagon tried to scrap sister carrier George Washington, only to be rebuffed by lawmakers who voted to overhaul it.
The George Washington is about 1 1/2 years into its $2.8 billion midlife overhaul at the Huntington Ingalls Newport News shipyard near here.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.