There are only two US aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific right now.
And both have just reported being overwhelmed by an out-of-control Covid-19 outbreak, with at least 200 sailors with the disease on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam and an unknown number on the USS Ronald Reagan and at the U.S. base in Japan were it’s parked.
USS Theodore Roosevelt
More than 200 sailors have tested positive on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt has warned Navy leadership that decisive action is required to save the lives of the ship’s crew.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors. The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” Capt. Brett Crozier wrote in a memo to the Navy’s Pacific Fleet.
“Decisive action is required. Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure
“This is a necessary risk. It will enable the carrier and air wing to get back underway as quickly as possible while ensuring the health and safety of our Sailors. Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”
USS Ronald Reagan
The USS Theodore Roosevelt isn’t the only Navy aircraft carrier in the Western Pacific that’s currently dealing the threat of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) among its sailors.
Fox News reports, citing U.S. officials, that the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier has two sailors who have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.
Details in the Fox News report are limited, and while Task & Purpose was unable to independently confirm those cases, the report comes amid news of a potential COVID-19 outbreak at Yokosuka Naval base
On Thursday, the Navy announced that a U.S. service member assigned to Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka, where the Reagan is permanently forward deployed, had tested positive for COVID-19.
On Friday evening, Officials at Yokosuka Naval Base announced that two additional sailors assigned to CFAY had tested positive for COVID-19, prompting a 48-hour lockdown for service members base residents, per Stars and Stripes.
Those new cases “have no known connection to the first positive result,” according to Yokosuka commander Capt. Rich Jarrett.
“With the unknown origins of these new cases, we need to take some immediate conservative actions to protect the health of our community until the nature of the public health threat can be characterized,” Jarrett said in a statement.
Major blow for US Navy
While Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly stressed that the Roosevelt in particular was “operationally capable if called upon to do so,” it’s unclear if the Reagan, currently undergoing maintenance at Yokosuka anyway, might face a similar impact on readiness as the service works to halt the spread of COVID-19 in the ranks.
Sidelining two aircraft carriers in the span of a few weeks would prove a major blow for the Navy’s carrier force, which has suffered from worrying deployment gaps in recent years, especially given the Pentagon’s ongoing focus on countering China in the Pacific.
“I gave the fleet guidance and said, we have to do three things,” Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino told USNI News on Wednesday. “The first is to ensure the health of our sailors and their families. The second is to ensure that we don’t spread this disease either to the homeland or to our allies and partners. And then the third is that we ensure we maintain our warfighting readiness.“
While the extent of the spread of COVID-19 across the Navy’s Japan-based sailors remains unclear, both aircraft carriers present unique challenge to the Navy where close quarters, communal living, and constant activity make social distancing to prevent transmission a near impossibility.