The USS Gerald R. Ford, the US Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, is heading back to its homeport in Norfolk, Virginia after an extended 8-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea.
The $13 billion carrier – the first in a new class of advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – was dispatched to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in late April 2023 amid rising tensions between Israel and Iran.
At the time, Iran had significantly ramped up its support for militant groups targeting Israel, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This prompted fears of a broader regional conflict.
The USS Ford’s deployment was intended to deter Iranian aggression and provide support for Israel if necessary. Stationed offshore with its powerful carrier strike group, it sent an unmistakable message of US commitment to the region.
Escalating Violence and Ford’s Extended Mission
On October 7th, tensions boiled over when Palestinian militants launched a major rocket attack from Gaza into Israel, killing over 30 civilians. Israel responded forcefully with airstrikes on Gaza while Hamas and PIJ fired hundreds more rockets.
The USS Ford was called into action, launching fighter jets to intercept rockets as well as conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Its advanced capabilities were critical in defending Israel during more than a week of intense fighting.
|USS Gerald R. Ford Strike Group
|Aircraft Carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)
|Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) – advanced F-35C, F/A-18 Super Hornets, E-2D Hawkeyes, MH-60 helicopters
|Guided Missile Cruisers USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55) and USS San Jacinto (CG 56)
|Guided Missile Destroyers USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119), USS Truxtun (DDG-103) and USS Farragut (DDG-99)
With the violence threatening to escalate further, the Pentagon extended the Ford’s deployment not once but twice over the succeeding months.
This underscored the carrier’s vital role in deterring conflict and reassuring allies like Israel. Stationed just over the horizon, its combat aircraft and strike weapons provided a formidable check against provocations by Iran and its militant proxies.
Now, after more than 8 months deployed, the USS Gerald R. Ford is finally heading back to its homeport in Norfolk.
The Ford’s return comes despite Israeli warnings about reduced US naval presence emboldening Iran. However, US officials say that deterrence remains strong even with the carrier’s departure.
Moreover, the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and its strike group will extend its presence in the Mediterranean following the Ford’s departure. Along with other naval assets, it will continue the maritime mission to counter Iran and violent extremist organizations.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised the USS Ford for fulfilling “an extraordinarily demanding mission in the harshest of conditions.” Over its long deployment, the sailors and aviators gained invaluable experience operating the Navy’s most technologically advanced warship to date.
Impact and What’s Next
The Ford’s presence was undeniably impactful over the past 8 months. The carrier deterred escalation at several key inflection points while also defending Israel with its advanced air wing.
Looking ahead, tensions with Iran are unlikely to abate anytime soon. The Islamic Republic continues expanding its nuclear program, developing missiles and arming militant proxies.
However, the Ford’s deployment affirmed that the US remains committed to regional security and defending allies like Israel when threatened. Iran and extremist groups now know the rapid response they can expect if provoking conflict.
With its operational debut now validated, the USS Gerald R. Ford will likely return to the Mediterranean before long as the new vanguard of American naval power projection.
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