The aircraft carriers Harry S. Truman, rear, and George H.W. Bush pass in the Gulf of Aden on March 22. Truman's next deployment will be the first under the Navy's new Optimized Fleet Response Plan. (US Navy)
The fleet is set to go full steam ahead with its latest fleet response plan, in hopes of locking in deployment lengths after years of long cruises and shifting schedules that have strained the fleet.
The new plan, known as Optimized Fleet Response Plan, or O-FRP, will extend the carrier strike group deployment cycle to 36 months, a measure that fleet bosses believe will return a measure of predictability back to deployments. The plan makes CSGs deployments a standard eight-months.
Adm. Bill Gortney, who heads Fleet Forces Command and is the plan’s architect, is confident the changes will also reduce amphib and submarine deployments, though a specific duration for those high-demand deployers is not known.
Gortney said he believes the eight-month carrier cruises are still better than the nine- and 10-month ones that have become all too frequent.
The carrier Harry S. Truman, returning home from what’s likely to be a nine-month cruise, will take the lead on O-FRP when it hits the yards this fall.
And it already has some lessons learned on which to build, thanks to the George H.W. Bush strike group, all of whose ships went through the training phase together.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” as the old saying goes — or, in this case, foreign standoffs and crises like those in Libya, Iran and Syria that have pushed deployments longer.
These and a smaller fleet size remain hurdles to deployment lengths again becoming standard, officials acknowledge.
“O-FRP, by its very nature, will not by itself change deployment lengths,” Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, told Navy Times in a Feb. 25 interview. Greenert said this would require agreement from the Pentagon and the combatant commanders, who oversee military operations around the world.
Greenert said the plan is to make eight-month deployments standard.
“And then we have to stand by that,” he explained. “Any increases beyond that, in my view, should be connected to an operation.”
As the Navy schedules eight-month deployments, which provide a higher baseline of forward presence, there’s a chance these will turn to 10-month cruises if a crisis erupts.
Navy leaders want some buy-in from the combatant commanders to keep deployment schedules solid.
“If you take just the pure COCOM request for global units around the world, I need a 420-ship Navy. So how do we distribute what we have appropriately?” Greenert said.
The answer, Greenert continued, centers on “some discipline [and] serious negotiations” with combatant commanders, whose demands far exceed Navy supply.
A rewrite of global employment is underway. It will outline how combat commanders identify aspirational requirements and employ joint forces.
As part of the new fleet deployment plan, the brass unveiled a sea pay hike to better compensate fleet sailors and persuade some to return to sea, where there are roughly 7,000 open billets.
“Our deployments inside O-FRP are in the eight-month range as opposed to the more traditional six months,” said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel, in a Feb. 18 interview. “And if we go longer than that, I would tell you those are arduous tours for sailors to be at sea that long. And we ought to pay them for it.”
The Navy is eying a special pay for those who sail on long deployments. In the meantime, Moran also oversaw the first sea pay boost in 13 years.
The 25 percent rate boost is intended to catch sea pay up to inflation. It’s set to take effect this summer.■
Staff writer Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.