The U.S. ground war in Afghanistan is over. Now it’s the Navy’s turn.

“I think a large part of this mission will fall on the Navy,” said a Navy official, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity as the Pentagon’s plans are still ongoing. “This is a great example of why we need more money to move forward – we were made for things like that, but we need the funding and support to do this, and it hasn’t always been like that.”

Concerned about the reappearance of ISIS-K or an encouraged al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Biden government has pledged to continue launching air strikes “over the horizon” by drones and manned aircraft. However, a plan has yet to be drawn up for how these aircraft will collect information on targets or carry out sustained missions from such great distances.

Air force pilots flying from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar or Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates have been hitting targets in Afghanistan for years, but they must first meander through the Gulf around Iran and refuel through Pakistan at least once and often spend hours in the air before circling over a target.

“Land-based fighters in Qatar or Kuwait may not have the time on the station to conduct air support missions for special forces,” said Bryan Clark, a former naval officer now at the Hudson Institute. He said this could lead to the use of more long-range drones and naval aircraft being flown out of the North Arabian Sea.

Parking an aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea cuts some of that flight time and allows pilots to fly over Pakistan before entering Afghan airspace.

But these operations wear out crews and ships, and also require the withdrawal of assets from the Pacific, where the Biden administration says Washington’s real strategic interests lie.

This tension is now fully visible. The Japan-based aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan flew F / A-18 Hornets over Kabul during the evacuation operation last month and remains in the North Arabian Sea alongside the USS Iwo Jima, which is concurrently the 24th time.

For decades, the US has stationed an aircraft carrier in Japan to consistently project US power in the Pacific. The call to dispatch the Reagan to the Middle East this spring caused confusion among China Hawks as it left the entire Pacific region without a fully functional aircraft carrier for the entire summer.

Reagan’s absence was perhaps most felt in June when a large Russian naval task force – the largest since the end of the Cold War – To moskau – got uncomfortably close to Hawaii, causing the US to crawl F-22s off Pearl Harbor to intercept bombers accompanying the flotilla.

At the time, the Reagan was in the Indian Ocean on its way to her Afghanistan mission, and the USS Carl Vinson was still in prep practice near Hawaii practicing the F-35 launch for the first time.

the Reagan took over the Middle East mission from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, so the ship could finally return to Virginia after successive missions that kept it at sea for over 300 of the last 500 days.

“They were supposed to stay in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic, but they spent most of their deployment in the Middle East,” Second Fleet Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis told reporters when Eisenhower finally got home in July.

“The Navy has to get under the weight of grueling Middle East operations,” said Bryan Clark. The Reagan “will likely stay there until exonerated as the US is now conducting counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and” [drones] may not work in all situations. “

However, it will not just be manned aircraft that the Biden government deems necessary. Drones will no doubt play a significant role, and the relatively limited number of advanced, long-lasting aircraft available at any given time could also be withdrawn from Indo-Pacific Command.

“Most of the air force we will use in Afghanistan will be unmanned, and I suspect the demand for these assets will skyrocket,” said Bryan McGrath, a former destroyer captain and executive director of FerryBridge Group Consulting This increased demand is unlikely to “make it easier for” [intelligence and surveillance] Tasks that are necessary to keep track of the Chinese Navy. “

Whatever the ongoing air war in Afghanistan, it will most likely spark new budget proposals for the Air Force and Navy.

“You will hear the Air Force say they are tied up and don’t have enough tankers” to refuel aircraft on long missions, said Brent Sadler, a retired Navy officer with the Heritage Foundation. “So give it to the Navy and let’s build more fighters because we need more fighters.”

On the other hand, “the Navy will say, ‘We will, but you need to buy more aircraft carriers”.

Ultimately, there are only a limited number of carriers available, and these extended deployments have resulted in increased maintenance times, which has impacted the deployment of carriers around the world.

These material costs “are unlikely to stop” [U.S. Central Command] of the request to have a carrier in the area for capabilities beyond the horizon, ”said Becca Wasser of the Center for a New American Security.

For decades, commanders of the Pentagon’s geographic commands have asked for and received aircraft carriers to shade their shores, and DoD leadership and the Navy have rarely said no. If the Biden government continues to focus on the hunt for ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, this is unlikely to change in the Central Command even without US troops in support of Afghanistan.

However, the Navy gets help. The new British airline HMS Queen Elizabeth is on its maiden voyage across the Pacific, stacked with F-35s flown by British and US Navy pilots. This fall, Navy F-35 pilots will also fly from a Japanese helicopter carrier, and in 2022 the new $ 13 billion aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford will be deployed for the first time.

With more platforms, there will undoubtedly be more missions and more inquiries. And when the past is a prologue, those requests get the green light.

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