The Hill - Oct. 17, 2015 - The Navy does not have an aircraft carrier in the Middle East region as the Iran deal takes effect and just days after Tehran conducted a controversial ballistic missile test, raising concerns.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt pulled out of the Middle East region on Tuesday, and the next carrier, the USS Harry Truman, won’t arrive to the Persian Gulf area until winter, leaving a months-long gap without a carrier.
The Navy’s moves were planned well in advance, but Iran’s recent missile test, which the Obama administration said violated international sanctions, is sparking worries about Tehran’s actions without a visible symbol of American deterrence in the region.
The missile test came just one day after the Roosevelt pulled out of the Persian Gulf. It leaves the Gulf area without a continuous U.S. aircraft carrier presence for the first time since 2008.
The test also comes just days before the Iran nuclear deal kicks in on Sunday.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Friday that the test violated United Nations Security Council resolutions to curb Iran’s ballistic missile activities, and the U.S. would file a report with the UNSC on the matter.
“The Security Council prohibition on Iran’s ballistic missile activities, as well as the arms embargo, remain in place and we will continue to press the Security Council for an appropriate response to Iran’s disregard for its international obligations,” she said.
And the administration has sought to assure allies in the region that it would keep a close watch on Iran after the deal was signed and counter its support for terrorism throughout the region.
President Obama just last week cited having an aircraft carrier as a projection of strength in the Middle East, in response to a question about whether U.S. adversaries and allies perceive the U.S. as retreating from the region.
"We have enormous presence in the Middle East. We have bases and we have aircraft carriers, and our pilots are flying through those skies," Obama said during his interview on CBS "60 Minutes" last Sunday.
While officials say there are plenty of other assets in the region, some argue that an aircraft carrier is critical and its absence is being noticed.
"The most important thing you need a carrier for is for what you don’t know is going to happen next," Peter Daly, a retired Navy vice admiral and CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute told NBC News.
"The biggest value to those carriers is that they are huge, and you have the capability to go from one stop to another, and we don’t need a permission slip from another nation when we want to fly planes," he said.
Earlier this year, the Navy’s top officer said he was concerned about the lack of an aircraft carrier’s presence in the Middle East at a time the U.S. is conducting an airstrike campaign in Iraq and Syria.
"Without that carrier, there will be a detriment to our capability there," the Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his July 30 confirmation hearing.
From 2010 through 2013, the U.S. maintained two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, known as a "2.0 carrier presence," although it sometimes temporarily dipped below that level.
The heightened presence was to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and also to deter Iran from bad behavior in the region and keep the Strait of Hormuz open.
However, the U.S. stepped away from that in 2013, after steep budget cuts hit the Pentagon, forcing the Defense Department to curtail deployments, defer maintenance, and delay major purchases.
A U.S. official told The Hill in August that the Navy could have an even more reduced presence in the Persian Gulf in coming years, due to budget cuts, but also a prioritization of the Asia-Pacific.
“All I can say is that in the short-term, we need a continuous presence. The demand is out there, the [combatant commander] is asking for it, and the [Pacific Command] commander is asking for it. They’re asking for it. There’s just not enough peanut butter to spread around,” the official said.
“So what are you going to do? You’re going to give what you can. You’re going to prioritize based on what the president wants us to do, what the [Defense] secretary wants us to do and allocate those forces to meet those needs,” the official said.