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US Navy leads strikes in Syria

The opening week of the U.S. strikes against militants in Syria was the service’s biggest salvo since 2011’s Operation Odyssey Dawn against the Libyan regime.

The Navy shot 47 Tomahawks from the cruiser Philippine Sea in the northern Persian Gulf and the destroyer Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea. The carrier George H.W. Bush also launched Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Super Hornets to strike Islamic State group targets near the border with Iraq’s Anbar province, including a training camp, during the night of Sept. 22 and early on Sept. 23.

Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Sept. 23 press conference that the strikes were the beginning of a sustained campaign that could drag on for years, a mission that will undoubtedly involve dozens more ships headed to the region in the months ahead.

But naval experts say the new requirements — an open-ended commitment to using Navy fighters and cruise missiles to strike militant hideouts in Iraq and Syria — must be balanced against the fleet’s need to ensure ships get the maintenance they need and sailors get time at home.

The long-term effects on fleet op tempo remain unclear, even as the Pentagon must soon decide whether to extend the ships and carrier strike group in 5th Fleet, which are nearing the end of their scheduled deployments. But one retired three-star warned that it’s possible some deployments will be extended.

“My concern is based on the fact that you look at the readiness of the forces, both what you have deployed and what you have on the bench,” said retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, former deputy head of Fleet Forces Command and current chief executive of the U.S. Naval Institute.

Mission first

Currently, the Navy has three carriers ready to deploy on short notice, which is down from five just a few years ago, and budget cuts have threatened to drop that number even further.

Daly said the Navy has managed to meet its mission so far without having to surge, adding that the mission could be a drain on Navy resources in the near future.

“In the near term, you’ll probably see deployments be extended,” Daly said, adding that the Vinson carrier strike group would likely be out for upward of nine-and-a-half months as a result of any new commitments.

The open-ended commitment in Iraq and Syria means that the Navy will have to prioritize its resources, and the fight against the Islamic State group must take highest priority, said retired Adm. James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander and current dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

“In addition to doing all the things we do routinely, we are being dragged back into long-term contingency operations, and that’s a great deal of strain on the Navy,” said Stavridis.

In the Sept. 26 phone interview, Stavridis said one of the top priorities for Navy leaders should be “re-energizing” the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces.

“Certainly the SEALs will be taxed by this, but it’s also going to require our [master-at-arms sailors], explosive ordnance disposal technicians, communications, cryptologists,” he said.

Stavridis also warned the Navy against losing focus on its Pacific mission, though it has to come second after fighting the Islamic State group.

“All other missions go into a third tier,” Stavridis added.

Fleet in demand

One mission that could still present issues for the fleet is the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which will need carrier-based air cover as in-country assets draw down, experts say.

“I think the impact remains to be seen,” said Bryan Clark, a retired Navy commander and former aide to the chief of naval operations.

Clark, now a defense expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has argued that the Air Force and partner countries will have to carry the brunt of the assault on IS to avoid a situation where CENTCOM needs two carriers — one to cover Afghanistan and one for Syria and Iraq strikes.

“Once you get access to bases in the region, it makes sense to use ground-based assets,” he said. “The most efficient way would be to use land-based F-16 or F-15s, as well as drones and coalition forces to support Iraq and Syria.”

In the near term, the Bush carrier strike group — composed of the Bush, Carrier Air Wing 8, cruiser Philippine Sea and destroyers Truxtun and Roosevelt — is slated to return at the end of November, and there have been no announced plans to extend the deployment, which will be about nine-and-a-half months.

The Vinson group — composed of the carrier Carl Vinson, the cruiser Bunker Hill and the destroyers Gridley, Sterett and Dewey — is in 7th Fleet and is slated to relieve the Bush CSG. The Vinson CSG cruise is slated for eight-and-a-half months, but that could be extended if the mission intensifies.

The Makin Island amphibious ready group, which relieved the Bataan ARG, is on station in the Persian Gulf. It is composed of the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, the dock landing ship Comstock, the amphibious transport dock San Diego and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Article source: http://www.navytimes.com/article/20140927/NEWS08/309270042/U-S-Navy-leads-strikes-Syria

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