“Money,” was the one-word answer from the official, when asked for the reason behind the Pentagon’s decision.
The U.S. had positioned two carriers within Central Command last April, during a period when Iran was threatening to mine the Straits of Hormuz as the U.S. was ramping up sanctions on Tehran. USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) was due to shove off from Norfolk, Va., on Thursday, the official said, but the last-minute change means thousands of sailors, officers and personnel will now say stateside, indefintely. The Pentagon also cancelled the deployment of the USS Gettysburg (CG-64), a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser.
It is the latest overt signal from the Obama administration that the budgetary uncertainty in Washington has already begun to affect military operations.
President Obama’s senior advisors met with defense industry executives at the White House on Wednesday, including Huntington Ingalls Industries, which builds aircraft carriers, according to press secretary Jay Carney.
In a Georgetown University speech on Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta blasted Congress for a “lurching” budget drama he called the most concerning national security issue facing the country. Panetta said that if sequester happens next month, the Pentagon will have to curtail global naval operations, citing the pivot to Asia but not offering specifics.
“This is not a game. This is reality,” Panetta said.
The USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) has been in the region since last fall. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was kept home for maintenance this winter, however, dropping the U.S. presence to one carrier in December.
The U.S. routinely sends carriers through the region at various times, so the actual number of carriers could increase quickly.
Pentagon press secretary George Little, in a statement, said "Facing budget uncertainty -- including a continuing resolution and the looming potential for across-the-board sequestration cuts -- the U.S. Navy made this request to the secretary and he approved. This prudent decision enables the U.S. Navy to maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they are needed to respond to national security contingencies."
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released