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Pentagon, Navy Debate Carrier Deployment Cycles

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The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group operating in the North Atlantic, January 2020

By The Maritime Executive 03-03-2020 02:30:00

On Monday, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday pushed back on the idea that the Navy's 36-month carrier training / deployment schedule "hasn't worked for years," as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told the House Armed Services Committee last week. 

In testimony Wednesday, Esper told the committee that the Pentagon's delay in producing the Navy's long-term shipbuilding plan stems in part from questions about the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP). “An assumption in the [Navy's force structure assessment] is that the OFRP works. The OFRP hasn’t worked for years, so why should we assume it will work in the future?" Esper said. 

The OFRP is a three-year maintenance, training and sustainment schedule built around a seven-month-per-cycle deployment at sea. Over the course of the past five years, OFRP has been used to manage five carrier strike groups, and the Navy has not hit the plan's timetable targets for maintenance and readiness. Two parallel reviews - one at the Navy level and one at the Pentagon level - are currently under way. 

On Monday, Adm. Gilday pointed out that despite departures from the OFRP schedule, the fleet has made "every deployment that we've been directed to do." Speaking at the WEST conference in San Diego, Gilday said that he doesn't "necessarily agree with the secretary's assessment" of OFRP, "with all due respect," Navy Times reported. However, Gilday has still directed an assessment of the OFRP schedule. 

Gilday also used the opportunity to explain why the Navy's FY2021 budget calls for decommissioning the first four littoral combat ships (the first two hulls in each of the two variants). These vessels were sidelined in 2016 as part of a restructuring of the LCS program, and they were set aside as test platforms. They have been undergoing evaluation ever since in order to get to the root of the "issues with hull maintenance and engineering that kept plaguing us and kept us from getting those ships to sea,” Gilday said. They are not combat ready and have not received upgrades like the rest of the LCS hulls, and Gilday said that the lightly-armed ships would require $2 billion to make ready - funds that they Navy could use elsewhere.