An F/A-18C Hornet strike fighter from Strike Fighter Squadron 15 lands aboard the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush in the Persian Gulf on July 29. The carrier is carrying 44 strike fighters. (MC3 Joshua Card / US Navy)
WASHINGTON — US Navy and Marine forces already are on station in the Middle East, part of the US policy of keeping a carrier strike group and an amphibious ready group in the region.
The two F/A-18 Super Hornets that struck an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) mobile artillery piece early on Aug. 8 were flying from the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush operating in the Persian Gulf, the Navy confirmed. The carrier has been operating in the Central Command area since March 22.
The Bush left its home port of Norfolk, Va., on Feb. 15 for a planned nine- to ten-month deployment. The carrier, the newest flattop in the fleet, is on its second strike group deployment. The carrier is carrying 44 strike fighters and five electronic attack aircraft.
The Bush is escorted by the cruiser Philippine Sea, and the destroyers O’Kane, Roosevelt and Arleigh Burke are in the area. All cruisers and destroyers can carry dozens of missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles. The range of the missile varies depending on the version, but is at least 800 statute miles — enough to reach ISIL operating areas in northern Iraq from the Persian Gulf.
The Navy would not comment on whether submarines were in the operating area. All US Navy attack submarines can launch Tomahawks, as can cruise-missile submarines.
Also available are Marine forces from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), deployed aboard the amphibious ships Bataan and Gunston Hall. With the amphibious ship Mesa Verde, the group departed Norfolk in early February for a scheduled eight-month deployment. The MEU, composed of about 2,500 Marines, includes a Marine medium tiltrotor squadron flying MV-22 Ospreys, a battalion landing team, and a combat logistics squadron. The ships also carry Marine attack and transport helicopters.
Another amphibious ready group centered on the assault ship Makin Island deployed with the 22nd MEU from San Diego on July 25, and is scheduled to relieve the Bataan ARG.
No other carrier strike groups are deployed at the moment, although the Carl Vinson is set to leave San Diego on a regularly scheduled deployment around the third week of August.
Here’s a list of naval forces deployed in Central Command:
■ Aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush (CVN 77), carrying Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8), with:
■ Strike Fighter Squadron 15 (VFA-15) Valions, with ten F/A-18C Hornets
■ Strike Fighter Squadron 31 (VFA-31) Tomcatters with 12 F/A-18E Super Hornets
■ Strike Fighter Squadron 87 (VFA-87) Golden Warriors, with 10 F/A-18C Hornets
■ Strike Fighter Squadron 213 (VFA-213) Black Lions, with 12 F/A-18F Super Hornets
■ Electronic Attack Squadron 134 (VAQ-134) Garudas, with five EA-6B Prowlers
■ Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124 (VAW-124) Bear Aces, with four E-2C Hawkeyes
■ Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 9 (HSC-9) Tridents, with eight MH-60S Seahawk helicopters
■ Helicopter Marine Strike Squadron 70 (HSM-70) Spartans, with four MH-60R Seahawk helicopters
An additional six MH-60Rs are operating from destroyers and cruisers in the region.
■ Cruiser Philippine Sea (CG 58)
■ Destroyers Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), O’Kane (DDG 77) and Roosevelt (DDG 80).
■ Amphibious assault ship Bataan (LHD 5), amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and amphibious landing dock Gunston Hall (LSD 44)