The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt returns to Naval Air Station North Island on May 25, 2021 (Robert Price / US Navy)
SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) – Next week, the Navy is taking another step to add the Pentagon’s newest and stealthiest aircraft to its on-board air wings.
San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt will leave San Diego on Friday to move its home port to Bremerton, Wash., Where it will undergo maintenance and modernization that will allow it to operate with the F-35, the Navy said. . .
The ship will be in the maintenance yards for 16 to 18 months, said Steven Fiebing, spokesman for the Naval Air Forces in San Diego. About 3,000 sailors and their families are expected to move to Washington, the Navy said in a statement.
The Theodore Roosevelt will be the last of three aircraft carriers currently based in San Diego to line up the F-35C version of the fighter; Carl Vinson is currently undergoing pre-deployment preparations ahead of what will be the first-ever carrier jet deployment. In the coming months, the Lincoln will also be deployed in what will be a first for the Marine Corps F-35Cs, Fiebing said.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, known as Black Knights, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, became the first Marine F-35C squadron to reach full operational capability July 1, the Marine Corps said in a statement.
The F-35C is the third and final variant of the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter to reach the operational milestone of deployment. The largest of the three types of aircraft, the “A” variant, is flown in the United States by the Air Force. Variant “B”, an aircraft capable of short take-off and landing vertically, has been flown by the Marine Corps since 2018 and operates from Navy amphibious vessels.
The “C” is flown by both the Navy and the Marine Corps and is designed to operate as part of a Navy aircraft carrier air wing. It has a larger scale and scope to meet the demands of carrier operations.
This integration of the air wing depended on a few factors, said Cmdr. Zachary Harrell, spokesperson for the Naval Air Forces.
Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, Harrell said, must have more powerful deflectors installed on their flight decks to handle jet blast from the F-35C’s single engine. Some interior spaces of ships also need to be renovated for F-35 missions.
However, it’s not just about hardware upgrades ships needed to deploy with the next-gen fighter, Harrell said. They must also integrate another aircraft in the wing, the CMV-22B Osprey.
“Any aircraft carrier with F-35s will need a CMV squadron,” Harrell said. “You need the Osprey to transport the engine module (F-35).”
These modules, Harrell said, are too large to be carried by the Navy’s MH-60 helicopters and C-2 Greyhound planes, which normally carry spare parts.
All of the Navy’s current Osprey squadrons operate from the North Island Naval Air Base, as only West Coast aircraft carriers are currently configured to deploy with F-35s.
The stealth F-35 brings new capabilities to aerial wings, according to the pilots who have flown them. Advanced sensors, communications and touchscreen cockpit controls make the jets easy to fly, a Marine Corps pilot told the Union-Tribune last year. This allows pilots to concentrate on their missions.
Hunters are the most expensive weapons system the Pentagon has ever deployed and are expected to cost over $ 1,000 billion to operate and maintain over their lifetime.
A squadron of F-35Cs will fit into each of the two air squadrons, Harrell said.
In addition to the modernization of the F-35, the Navy said, the Roosevelt will also receive upgrades to its self-defense system, 25mm machine gun and computer network.
Maintenance crews will also work on the ship’s hull, rudder, propulsion shaft and anchor while the ship is in dry dock at the Puget Sound shipyard.
Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carriers have a lifespan of 50 years, but require frequent maintenance and technology upgrades, including one-time, multi-year, mid-life refueling performed on the East Coast. Some maintenance work is carried out on a regular basis at the dock in San Diego, but more complex maintenance requires occasional work in Bremerton.
The Puget Sound Shipyard has the only dry dock on the west coast large enough for Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.
Because of these maintenance requirements, the Navy frequently moves its aircraft carriers.
Fiebing said Navy officials have not decided whether the Roosevelt will return to San Diego after its stint in the yards. The last San Diego-based carrier to move home ports from San Diego to Bremerton – the Carl Vinson, which left in January 2019 – returned in September after more than a year and a half of maintenance in Washington.
The Abraham Lincoln arrived in San Diego in January 2020 after a 10-month deployment around the world following refueling and mid-life maintenance in Norfolk, Virginia.
The carriers are an economic boon for the region. According to the 2020 San Diego Military Economic Impact report from UC San Diego and the San Diego Military Advisory Board, the three carriers each contribute $ 767 million to the region’s economy per year. The report says military spending in San Diego mitigated the economic impact of the pandemic in 2020.
For Theodore Roosevelt, the northbound move comes after a tumultuous 18 months for the ship and her crew.
After leaving San Diego in January 2020 for a routine deployment, the crew found themselves at the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic when several sailors contracted the virus after a layover in Vietnam. Put away for a month in Guam, the virus would end up infecting a third of the crew.
The ship’s captain at the time, Captain Brett Crozier, was fired by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly after a letter from Crozier criticizing the way the Pacific Fleet was handling the outbreak was disclosed to the media. Modly himself later resigned after making derogatory comments about Crozier to the crew days after the shooting.
A 41-year-old chief petty officer has died of the virus.
The ship returned to San Diego last summer, but quickly began to prepare for another deployment. The Sailors began a mandatory quarantine before deployment in November and left San Diego on December 7, meaning they were away from their families during the Thanksgiving and December holidays. On her second deployment in a year, the ship did not visit any port.
The Roosevelt returned to San Diego in May.
© 2021 The Union-Tribune of San Diego.
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