Norfolk — The aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman and her strike group will deploy soon, a move officials say has been in the works for two years.
But they’re pushing back on other media accounts that speculated Truman’s upcoming deployment — the flattop’s third overseas cruise in four years — was designed to take the place of sister Nimitz-class carrier Eisenhower, which encountered delays during a long maintenance session.
“Truman’s upcoming deployment has been planned for more than two years and has remained unchanged,” said Capt. Scott Miller, spokesman for Fleet Forces Command. “There was never a plan for Truman and Eisenhower to ‘swap’ deployment positioning.”
Fleet Forces Command officials told Navy Times that Truman’s upcoming deployment really involves stretching the limits of the Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan.
They see Truman continuing the Dynamic Force Employment concept pioneered by the carrier last year. It’s designed to keep potential adversaries clueless about troop and warship deployments overseas.
Miller said that although Truman’s tour wasn’t announced until now, the plan to redeploy “around this time” had been on planning tables since the carrier’s crew began training for last year’s deployment.
Truman is in what the Navy calls its “sustainment phase” of the training and deployment cycle and is prepared to sail if ordered to do so as a “surge” carrier.
Truman’s last deployment began on April 11, 2018. But it turned out to be a nontraditional 8-month cruise, featuring two separate journeys overseas and a surprise return to Norfolk last July for what officials called a “working port visit.“
The first portion of the deployment included three months in the Mediterranean Sea. The second portion took Truman across the North Atlantic and into the Arctic Circle, the first carrier strike group journey there in nearly two decades.
The carrier returned to Norfolk on Dec. 16 and headed back to sea exactly three months later.
That was for a sustainment exercise with the rest of the strike group, making sure that the crews could operate efficiently and collectively in case they were ordered overseas.
Training for the strike group’s next Composite Unit Training Exercise is slated to start soon. That’s a milestone training event all carrier strike groups must complete before being marked ready for overseas deployment.
The resurrected Norfolk-based 2nd Fleet will oversee the integrated training alongside Carrier Strike Group 4 and recommend to Fleet Forces commander Adm. Christopher Grady whether Truman is ready to deploy again.
During a May 29 press conference, 2nd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis telegraphed that he expected to start “doing some exercises” with Truman after he returned from the Baltic Operations 2019 exercise in Northern Europe.
The Navy hasn’t said what Truman’s next mission will be or where the carrier will go, citing a long-standing policy of never discussing future operations.
Miller said that Eisenhower is prepping for a deployment on the carrier’s own timetable after recently exiting a 19-month maintenance availability at the Portsmouth, Virginia, shipyard.
That session was slated to end in early 2018, but delays extended the time in the yard. Ike returned to Naval Base Norfolk on Nov. 15, making room for sister carrier George H.W. Bush to enter the yard.
The second oldest flattop in the U.S. Fleet, Eisenhower was commissioned in 1977 and is expected to reach the end of its service life within the next decade but it was declared ready to start sea trials on March 28.
That put Ike in what officials call the “basic phase” of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan. During this initial period, the ship concentrates on unit level training until it’s ready to begin integrated training with the rest of its strike group.
“I can’t discuss when we will shift into the integrated phase (of training),” said Lt. Cmdr. Rick Chernitzer, spokesman for the Eisenhower Strike Group, on June 17 as the warship from its last underway.
It was the flattop’s fourth foray into the Atlantic Ocean since ending the extended maintenance session in March.
Chernitzer told Navy Times that the Ike’s flight deck was re-certified during the second underway in mid-April.
Navy officials expect Eisenhower’s crew to be fully trained and ready to deploy in the coming year.