The Nimitz was scheduled to deploy in January to relieve the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, but that will be put off until summer in order to complete repairs to its propulsion system. The problem was discovered while the ship was doing pre-deployment maneuvers.
As a result, the Navy made the unusual decision to bring the Eisenhower home to Norfolk, Va., in December and resurface its flight deck so it can go back to the Gulf area in February and remain for four months. That means that in December and January the USS John C. Stennis will be the only carrier in that area, although there are other naval forces there, including Marines aboard a three-ship contingent led by the USS Peleliu.
In announcing the moves, the Navy said none are related to the conflict between Israel and the Hamas militants in Gaza - or any other security threats or contingency planning. The nation's fleet of Navy ships has endured much wear and tear during more than 11 years of war; the Stennis, for example, was called on to accelerate its deployment schedule last summer.
The decision to leave a two-month gap in the normal two-carrier Navy presence was approved Tuesday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, officials said. The carriers are a key feature of the U.S. military strategy for the Mideast; they are considered important in deterring Iran, for example.
This will be the first such gap in the Gulf region since at least December 2010, the Navy said.
The Stennis, which deployed from its home port of Bremerton in late August, is due to head home in March. The current plan calls for it to be replaced then by the USS Harry S Truman.