Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the extension of the Ford Carrier Strike Group’s deployment, USNI News has learned.
Last week, Austin approved the second extension for the carrier, two defense officials confirmed to USNI News. The move from the Pentagon comes as the U.S. maintains its naval build-up following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel. The Pentagon immediately ordered the carrier closer to Israel after the attacks.
As of Saturday, Ford was operating in the Ionian Sea.
Over the weekend, the strike group passed the 200-day mark since Ford left on deployment in May from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., according to USNI News carrier deployment database. The previous carrier strike group deployment to the Mediterranean, comprised of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) and its escorts, lasted 257 days.
The strike group includes Ford, Carrier Air Wing 8, guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60), USS Ramage (DDG-61), USS McFaul (DDG-74) and USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116).
Austin approved an initial extension for Ford on Oct. 17, USNI News reported at the time.
Ford was initially deployed to the Mediterranean as part of the ongoing U.S. and NATO effort to deter Russia following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. has had a carrier strike group in the Med., continuously since December of 2021.
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) was set to relieve Ford as part of the Russian deterrence mission but was retasked to U.S. Central Command as part of the regional U.S. naval build-up with the goal of preventing the conflict in Southern Israel from spreading to other countries.
As of Thursday, there have been more than 50 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria by groups sympathetic to Hamas. Last week, guided-missile destroyer Thomas Hudner downed a drone in the Red Sea launched from Yemen Pentagon officials said.
In addition to the Ike and Ford carrier strike groups, the U.S. has also dispatched the three-ship Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the region. USS Bataan (LHD-5) and USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) are operating in the Red Sea while USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) is in the Eastern Mediterranean. The U.S. 6th Fleet command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) is also in the Mediterranean along with French and U.K. Royal Navy warships.