Stennis aircraft carrier deploys ahead of schedule

Wednesday - 7/18/2012, 4:53pm EDT

The U.S. Navy will deploy the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and its strike group four months sooner than planned.

The carrier just returned from serving in the Middle East in March and is set to return to Central Command, an area that includes Iran. About 5,500 sailors aboard the Bremerton, Wash., based Stennis and the cruiser USS Mobile Bay will be affected by the short turnaround between deployments, the Defense Department said this week.

The Stennis carrier group was originally scheduled to head to the Pacific Command later this year.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement that the Stennis group is needed in the Central Command region to relieve the USS Enterprise carrier group, which is headed home.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Central Command needs a continuous carrier presence.

"The decision will help support existing naval force requirements in the Middle East and reduce the gap caused by the upcoming departure of the USS Enterprise Strike Group," Little said in the DoD statement. "It is in keeping with our long-standing commitments to the region."

Little said the deployment is not related to tensions between the United States and Iran.

The USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is expected to replace the USS Abraham Lincoln group, which is currently serving in the region with the Enterprise.

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.