The ongoing maintenance backlog in the East Coast’s aircraft carrier fleet leaves the Navy with no ready aircraft carrier available to sub in for USS Harry S. Truman, if needed.
On Sep. 12, 2019 surface escorts from the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) left their homeports to kick off an overseas deployment.
Aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) did not.
After the carrier was sidelined at the end of August with a malfunction in the ship’s electrical distribution system, engineers continue to assess the problem. “The aircraft carrier’s repairs are progressing, and all efforts are being made to deploy the carrier and air wing as soon as possible,” according to a Navy statement to USNI News.
In the meantime, the surface ships in the strike group are forming their own surface action group (SAG) and deploying with neither the carrier nor the air wing.
Norfolk-based USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98) and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60) will join Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Lassen (DDG-82) and USS Farragut (DDG-99) which departed Mayport, Fla.
The SAG will be led by the Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 28 and her staff, along with elements of the carrier strike group staff. To make up for capabilities typically found on the carrier particularly in the areas of maintenance and technical support, the SAG staff brought in about 15 additional personnel, 2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis told USNI News.
The SAG will also take with it a detachment of MH-60R helicopters from Helicopter Maritime Squadron (HSM) 72 out of Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Fla.
“This group is going to deploy more than likely to multiple regions, and they are going with a much higher-end capability, with helicopter detachments with significant anti-submarine warfare capability, significant air defense capability, as well as strike warfare capability,” Lewis said. “So really a full-up group, minus the carrier and the air wing. But a full-up, very capable group is going off to do the nation’s bidding in this great power competition.”
According to Lewis this is the first time a SAG has deployed from the East Coast since 2006. He added that it was an unusual and unfortunate situation to send a SAG in lieu of a full carrier strike group.
“The situation with Truman frankly is unfortunate; obviously we’re working really hard to fix it and we will fix it, but it’s unfortunate – nobody wanted that to happen certainly. But we’re going to make this into what it really is, which is, we’ve still got a massive capability that’s going forward on time, and that will be even more amplified when Truman comes out.”
Having a carrier strike group deploy without an aircraft carrier is a largely unprecedented move by the service. There are several past instances where a carrier was stuck in maintenance or otherwise unable to deploy on time, and another carrier in the fleet was able to swap in and take its place. For instance, when USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) didn’t leave the yard on time for its 2015 deployment, Truman went in its place.
However, the ongoing maintenance backlog in the East Coast’s aircraft carrier fleet leaves the Navy with no ready aircraft carrier available to sub in for Truman, if needed.
The one example of a CSG sending its escorts out ahead of the carrier occurred with the Nimitz CSG in 2013. USS Nimitz (CVN-68) had an emergent maintenance issue arise in November 2012, so its destroyers deployed in January 2013 and the carrier was in maintenance until March, rejoining the DDGs that were operating as a SAG in the Pacific.
Lewis said the carrier brings the deterrent effect, but the cruiser and destroyers bring the most in-demand naval capabilities.
“If you look at the missions that are in demand by naval forces, by high-end naval forces, much of them can be classified in the maritime security operations, anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare.
“There’s no question that not having the aircraft carrier, it does detract from the symbolism and the deterrent effect, no question. The aircraft carrier is a behemoth beast with an amazing capability that, it shows up off your shores, and if you’re not our friend you become our friend quickly if you know what’s good for you. There’s no question that that effect is lost with smaller ships, but these ships are really really capable,” he continued.
As for the fate of the carrier, Lewis said engineers are beginning repairs and continuing to assess the full damage to the electrical system.
“They’re in the process of repairs and identifying all the root causes that they can at this point,” he said. “We fully intend to deploy the aircraft carrier at a later time. We obviously can’t talk about that timeframe right now and what it’s going to be right now, but we’re pressing forward with that and it will deploy and rejoin the group at some point. So it goes to the dynamic capability of maritime forces.”
Asked for a ballpark of how much longer the repair would could take, Lewis said, “I can’t say because I don’t know.”
Even without the carrier and air wing, “we have an important mission ahead,” Capt. Jennifer Couture, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 28, said. “SAG operations allow the Commander tremendous flexibility and responsiveness in the types of missions that can be conducted, and geographic reach into varied and diverse areas. The SAG ships are ready and able to support a variety of exercises and missions with our partners and allies in support of maritime stability and security around the globe.”
Photo credit: U.S. Navy