The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is now in the Indian Ocean after a seven-month stint in the Middle East in parallel with the US maximum pressure campaign targeting Iran following an escalation in tensions in late-2019.
Carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and unspecified escorts entered US 7th Fleet on Sunday as its relief, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), entered US Central Command (CENTCOM) over the weekend by transiting the Suez Canal in mid-December.
The Abraham Lincoln had been operating in a tight box between the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman since it was scrambled to the region on 9 May in response to a request from CENTCOM commander General Kenneth McKenzie at the urging of then-national security adviser John Bolton.
This deployment saw a plethora of US and allied military assets deployed to the region to deter continued Iranian aggression following an attack on a Saudi oil refinery, UK-flagged oil tanker and Panamanian-flagged, Japanese-owned oil tanker by suspect Iranian forces and included:
- The USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group;
- Four B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers;
- Patriot Missile batteries;
- An additional 5-10,000 US troops in support of the existing 60-80,000 US troops as part of USCENTCOM; and
- The recent deployment of the USS Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group and the Royal Navy's HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Class guided missile destroyer, and HMS Kent, a Type 23 guided missile frigate.
The USS Abraham Lincoln was extended in the Middle East on orders from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper while the Truman was laid up with electrical system problems.
The Truman is now in the Red Sea approaching the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa.
The episode that sidelined Truman and forced Lincoln into an unplanned extension points to the fragility of the service’s east coast carrier force as the Navy has had trouble catching up with the maintenance from 15 years of supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This raises serious concerns about America's capacity to maintain long-term concurrent deployments, with competing tactical and strategic realities placing increasing pressure on limited US military assets.
This is best expressed by Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at ASPI, who described the impact of the increasingly distracted state of the US, telling Defence Connect, "If war does break out between the United States and Iran, I would expect to see nations like Russia and China move to exploit a distracted US – with China’s moves likely to be made in the South China Sea."
Truman conducted its second deployment in two years after a maintenance period for USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) ran much longer than expected.
The Lincoln is set to return to its new homeport of San Diego, California, after its extended deployment. It’s unclear if the strike group will linger in the western Pacific before heading home.
The carrier has been deployed for 259 days as of Monday. USS Abraham Lincoln holds the record for longest carrier deployment in the post-Cold War era, with a deployment of 290 days mostly in the Middle East from July 2002 to May 2003.