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The US Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, is leaving Japan after nearly a decade in the Pacific

Ella Sherman,Chris Panella   

The US Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, is leaving Japan after nearly a decade in the Pacific
  • After nearly a decade, the USS Ronald Reagan is leaving the Pacific.
  • Originally deployed in 2015, the carrier supported US allies and interests in the Indo-Pacific.

The USS Ronald Reagan, the only aircraft carrier in the US Navy forward deployed, or permanently stationed in another country, is leaving Japan after spending nearly a decade in the Pacific.

"For nearly nine years, thousands of Ronald Reagan Sailors have lived and worked here in Yokosuka, and have deployed throughout the region to uphold the international rule of law and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific along with our allies and partners," Capt. Daryle Cardone, Ronald Reagan's commanding officer, said in a press release Thursday.

Originally deployed to Japan in 2015 as part of a big three-carrier swap during which three flattops all named after former presidents changed homeports at once, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier remained in the Indo-Pacific region and provided support and assistance to neighboring US allies.

The Reagan has been the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, CSG 5, and been forward-deployed under US 7th Fleet, "the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed numbered fleet," which "routinely interacts and operates with allies and partners in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region."

The US military phrase "free and open Indo-Pacific region" generally refers to the US vision for the region and is meant to stand in contrast with competing aims from China.

In 2021, USS Ronald Reagan briefly left its forward-deployed position to provide air support during US withdrawal operations in Afghanistan.

The USS Ronald Reagan already had a history of cooperation with Japan prior to its deployment. The ship was sent to assist the country following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that hit its coast in 2011.

The aircraft carrier, CVN-76, will return to Bremerton, Washington, and be replaced by USS George Washington later this year. The George Washington previously served as the forward-deployed carrier in Japan.

"Our relationship with Japan and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has never been stronger," said Rear Adm. Greg Newkirk, commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, per the Navy. "Whether it's aboard USS Ronald Reagan today or USS George Washington in the future, we will continue to strengthen those ties at all levels, on-shore and at-sea."

Aircraft carriers like the Reagan, "when combined with guided-missile destroyers and cruisers, creates a carrier strike group of up to 12 ships and 75 aircraft," according to the Navy's 7th Fleet. "These forces have a higher operational tempo than other Navy vessels, and being forward-deployed cuts an average of 17 days transit time to the region compared to forces based in the continental U.S."

The Reagan's deployment in Japan has long demonstrated US support for allies, as well as American force posture and strength in the Pacific. Aircraft carriers remain a key US element to projecting force and power far away from US soil, often meant to deter enemies and maintain the US-led order in times of tension and conflict.

Last October, following Hamas' deadly terrorist attack in Israel, the US sent the US Navy's newest supercarrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, and its strike group into waters near Israel as a sign of support, as well as an act of deterrence to prevent other actors, such as Iran and its proxy groups, from getting involved as Israeli forces began engaging Hamas in Gaza.

In the Pacific, the presence of an American carrier is meant to deter China from aggressive behavior, as well as signify strong alliances between the US and its Pacific allies. Having a US carrier based in the Pacific alongside other 7th Fleet warships, is also aimed at keeping Russia and North Korea in check.

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