TOKYO -- The USS Carl Vinson, the American aircraft carrier headed to the Korean Peninsula, could have a second carrier by its side by late May -- technically speaking, at least.
The U.S. Navy announced on Monday that pilots assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan, based at the Japanese port of Yokosuka, will carry out landing practice on the island of Iwo Jima between May 2 and 13. The move signals that four months of scheduled maintenance of the Reagan -- the Navy's only forward-deployed carrier -- are coming to an end, and that the ship is nearly ready to sail.
The announcement comes as the world braces for further provocations from North Korea, including a possible sixth nuclear test or a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Either action would elevate tensions in the region significantly.
By rule, the 100 pilots assigned to the Reagan must conduct 4,200 "touch and go" trials on land before they head out to sea. The exercise involves descending toward a runway and touching down before immediately taking off again at full throttle. Known as field carrier landing practice, or FCLP, this simulates the complicated task of landing a fighter jet on a carrier deck.
Within 10 days of finishing FCLP, the pilots are required to head out to sea and acquire carrier qualification, or CQ, on the Reagan itself. This means the carrier will be at sea starting around May 12. After several days of CQ tests, the Reagan, its 5,000-plus crew, its F/A-18E fighter jets and its pilots will be mission-ready.
While there have been no announcements regarding plans for the Reagan, the U.S. has a record of sending dual carriers as a measure of deterrence. In 1996, when China tested missiles in the Taiwan Strait, then-President Bill Clinton ordered two fully armed carrier battle groups to pass through the strait as a show of strength.