Mattis compared how the US Navy deploys ships to a commercial shipping operation, with predictable, pre-planned routes, potentially blunting the strategic advantage of the fast-moving carriers.
Instead, Mattis wants to "ensure that preparation for great power competition drives us, not simply a rotation schedule that allows me to tell you three years from now which aircraft carrier will be where in the world," said Mattis, referring to war and rivalry with massive military powers like China and Russia as "great power competition."
Mattis' solution is quicker, more erratic deployments of aircraft carriers.
"When we send them out, it may be for a shorter deployment," he said. "There will be three carriers in the South China Sea today, and then, two weeks from now, there's only one there, and two of them are in the Indian Ocean."
But rather than eight-month-long deployments typical of aircraft carriers these days, where one single ship could see combat in the Persian Gulf before heading to the Indian Ocean and eventually back home, Mattis wants snappier trips.
"They'll be home at the end of a 90-day deployment," Mattis told lawmakers. "They will not have spent eight months at sea, and we are going to have a force more ready to surge and deal with the high-end warfare as a result, without breaking the families, the maintenance cycles — we'll actually enhance the training time."
Mattis' plan for more unpredictable deployments fits broadly with President Donald Trump's administration's national defense strategies that prioritize fighting against adversaries like Russia and China, both of which have developed systems to counter US aircraft carriers.
With shorter, more spontaneous deployments of aircraft carriers, Mattis and the Navy could keep Russia and China on their toes.
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