Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Navy to Retool Ship Rotations; Repairs vs. Need of Forces at Issue

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Navy to Retool Ship Rotations; Repairs vs. Need of Forces at Issue

Article excerpt

Byline: Rachel Davis, Times-Union staff writer

As the air campaign in Iraq winds down and ships begin to trickle back to their home ports, Navy officials are putting together a plan to revamp ship rotations.

For the thousands of sailors and airmen revving up for cruises, this could mean a longer deployment, or less than the usual one year between underway periods.

More than half of the Navy's 302 ships are on deployment, including seven of the 12 carrier strike forces, about 77,000 personnel. In peacetime, the Navy expects to have about one-third of the fleet deployed and has a minimum requirement of two flattops on deployment at a time.

With forces stretched since the war in Afghanistan, balancing the amount of repair work vs. the amount of forces needed overseas has become top priority for the Navy. As the ships come home they need to be repaired, an effort Navy leadership has coined "reconstitution."

The goal of reconstitution is a force that can leave for deployment at least six months before the scheduled date, if conflict calls. In the meantime, deployment could be lengthened to fill gaps as the Navy revamps its fleet, the Atlantic Fleet commander, Adm. Robert Natter, told the Virginian-Pilot.

The Norfolk-based Enterprise's regularly scheduled cruise might be stretched upward of a year, he said.

"That allows these guys to get their clocks squared away so they can make a six-month deployment. If you don't do that, you just extend out into '04 and '05 longer-than-six-month deployments until you get everything reconstituted."

The Enterprise is the next Atlantic Fleet carrier scheduled to deploy this year, followed by the Jacksonville-based John F. Kennedy in 2004.

Natter has been tasked with the maintenance and training cycles of ships, so the Navy can easily dispatch forces ahead of schedule. He and his staff are expected to brief the chief of Naval Operations on the new deployment cycle structure within the next few weeks.

Several ships stationed in the Middle East have been at sea long after their scheduled return date. The carrier Lincoln has been at sea for nine months. …

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