Sailors with the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group were told this weekend their deployment has again been extended while the ship slated to replace theirs in the Middle East is undergoing unexpected repairs.
"We're going to have to stay on station a little longer," Capt. Walter Slaughter, the aircraft carrier Lincoln's commanding officer, said in a video message from the Arabian Sea. "... I know that's not the news everybody wanted to hear, but we're tough as individuals and even tougher as a crew."
The carrier has been operating in the Middle East since May, when the strike group was sent to the region to send what then-National Security Adviser John Bolton called "a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime." The carrier strike group left Virginia on April 1.
Last month, four ships from the Harry S. Truman Strike Group left the East Coast. But the aircraft carrier Truman stayed behind to undergo repairs for an ongoing electrical issue.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke said Friday that he's "very concerned" about carrier maintenance. As USNI News noted, six East Coast carriers are tied up in various states of maintenance or training.
Burke said he expects the work on the Truman to be complete in "weeks, not months."
"Truman is on a good path for recovery," the Navy's No. 2 officer said at the 2019 Military Reporters and Editors conference. "I think the engineers have done a fantastic job in troubleshooting a very unique problem and, at the same time, going out and evaluating whether it's going to be a problem on the entire class of aircraft carriers [and] correcting it."
The Navy has struggled to dig out of a maintenance backlog after years of deployment extensions like that which the Lincoln faces now. Burke said it's concerning anytime ships are forced to stay out beyond the eight-month mark, and they're watching the Lincoln closely as it remains underway.
Slaughter asked the Lincoln's crew and family members to be patient as they work on getting a date they can expect to return to the U.S.
"I know it's tough, but realize it's for a very good reason," he said. "Our presence here is making a difference, and we're going to have to keep making that difference for just a little bit longer, so please stay strong with us."
The carrier Lincoln is supposed to head to its new homeport in San Diego at the end of this deployment. Carrier Air Wing Seven; the guided-missile cruiser Leyte Gulf; and guided-missile destroyers Bainbridge, Mason and Nitze are assigned to the strike group.
Tensions with Iran have been high since the strike group was ordered to the region. In June, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard shot down a Navy drone operating in international airspace. That followed an attack on Japanese and Norwegian tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway where much of the world's oil traffic occurs.
When a Navy ship was passing through that same strait about a month later, at least one Iranian drone came within 1,000 yards of the amphib. Marines aboard the ship used a new weapon to take that drone down.