News broke earlier this week that for the first time in a decade the United States had three carriers in the western Pacific. The USS Ronald Reagan is permanently forward deployed to Japan. However, the USS Theodore Roosevelt left San Diego earlier this month and is currently in relative close proximity to the Reagan. The USS Nimitz is on its return leg from the Persian Gulf region and just happens to be transiting the Western Pacific. I believe that the Roosevelt is likely taking the place of the Nimitz in the Gulf but the overlapping schedules is an interesting coincidence as it is not very often the Navy has two, let alone three, carriers in any one region.
While the assembling of the three carriers could be explained as a scheduling overlap, a few other items of note add to the quiet buildup: The USS Michigan, a converted ballistic missile submarine which is capable of carrying more than 150 Tomahawk missiles, made a port call in Busan, South Korea in mid-October. In addition, the Air Force is quietly moving a dozen F-35’s to the region at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa. These will work in combination with another group of Marine F-35B’s that are already stationed at MCAS Iwakuni in Japan. In addition, the Air Force seems to routinely station at least a couple B-1’s out of Andersen Air Force base on Guam.
This quiet buildup has, surprisingly, largely been off the radar of most in the media. In the Persian Gulf Wars, the United States used six carriers in Desert Storm, four carriers in Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and then five carriers for Iraqi Freedom. However, due to the continued development of smart bombs and guided munitions since Operation Desert Storm, the corresponding result significantly multiplies the effectiveness one carrier has today over what two, or even three, carriers had 26 years ago! The Marines, and more specifically, the Army, haven’t conducted anything like the Navy’s build up. However, with three carriers and the USS Michigan in the Western Pacific, the US Navy is loaded for bear!