The State of the US Carrier Force

The United States Navy's carrier force has been quite busy over the past few months, especially since they have been one carrier short since 2012, when the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered US carrier, was taken out of service. Here are two of the major developments over the past few months:

The USS Harry S. Truman deploys

The USS Truman and its carrier strike group set sail Monday for a scheduled 7-month deployment to the Middle East. This comes just days after the Islamic State militants attacked several locations in Paris, killing at least 132 people.

USS Truman is replacing the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which left the waters of the Middle East in October. This gap in carrier coverage of the Middle East represents the first time since 2007 that the United States has not had a carrier in the region. There have been many critics of this gap, but the Navy says that it is necessary to shorten deployments and stabilize the deployment schedule of the current 10 aircraft carriers.

The Carrier Gap to Narrow...Soon

As mentioned earlier, currently the US is operating one carrier short of its 11-carrier minimum that is mandated by Congress. This "carrier gap" should disappear by next year, although that gap will be gone in name only.

According to this article the large amount of recent deployments across the globe for the carrier fleet means that a large number of US carriers are undergoing major maintenance, and another gap is likely in the Pacific in 2016, even as China becomes more aggressive in that region.

In addition to a lack of ships, the readiness levels of the Navy mean that even if all the sequestration and funding cuts were reversed immediately, it would take until 2018 for the Navy to regain its desired level of operational capacity. Those levels involve two carrier strike groups deployed, with another three strike groups ready to deploy wherever they are needed.

It doesn't get any better looking at the next few years - the newest carrier, the USS Gerald Ford will be commissioned next year, but it won't be able to deploy until 2021. This delay is caused by the all-new carrier design, as well as a large number of under-tested (or under-performing) technologies.

In story of the development of the USS Gerald Ford is frighteningly similar to the F-35 - using bleeding-edge technologies that have been designed and tested on a computer instead of real-world operations. As we mentioned in a previous article, the electromagnetic launch catapult and the all-new arresting gear system - the backbone of any aircraft carrier - are both using new technologies that are promising but have much higher failure rates than the systems currently in use. Additionally, the radar on the USS Ford will not be used on the next Ford-class ship (the USS John F Kennedy will get an entirely different system), meaning that the USS Ford will be the only ship in the Navy with this specific type of radar - complicating training and upgrading, as well as increasing the cost, now and in the future.

Fortunately, although the Navy was originally planning on foregoing shock trials to the USS Ford (where explosives are detonated nearby to see how the hull and the various carrier systems are impacted) Navy Secretary Ray Mabus overturned that decision. If Secretary Mabus had not done so, the shock tests would have been conducted on the USS Kennedy, a ship many years away from being finished - leaving any weaknesses on the USS Ford unknown and vulnerable.

Where are They Now

If you're interested in the (somewhat) current location of the US Navy's 10 carriers, you can check out this link.

In it you can also see (very) approximate timelines for the three proposed carriers (the USS Ford, USS Kennedy, and the USS Enterprise) as well as the locations for all the retired US Naval carriers.

A user over on Reddit has even created a map of the most recent US carrier locations. For a direct link to the map, click here.