U.S. Central Command requires support from coalition partners to provide a sufficient carrier strike group presence and meet mission needs in its area of responsibility, the command’s leader told lawmakers March 7.

Outgoing CENTCOM Commander Army Gen. Joseph Votel said his fiscal year 2019 request for carrier strike group presence was not met during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Thursday.

A Rafale multirole fighter takes off from the French aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R 91) during exercise FANAL 2019, Feb. 8, 2019. FANAL 19 is a French exercise designed to enhance the operational capability of the French Carrier Strike Group, Charles de Gaulle while providing realistic training to both the French and participating nations while strengthening interoperability and relationships. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ford Williams/Released)

“We did not have carriers all the time that we would like them,” he said in response to a question from freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a retired Navy commander and surface warfare officer. “We had to work solutions that included other platforms and other coalition partners to help meet those requirements.”

The command’s carrier presence has been “sufficient” to meet ongoing security needs in the region, but it is “challenged” to continue to do so, Votel said.

“It’s something that we have to work with our coalition partners on to help offset this, at times when we will not have the presence that we would like,” Votel said. “I think we have successfully done that.”

The French Navy on Tuesday announced it is deploying the aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle into the Mediterranean Sea as part of a Naval Air Group, passing through to the Indian Ocean and ending in Singapore on a mission dubbed “Clemenceau 2019.” It will carry 20 Dassault Rafale-M naval fighters, two Northrop-Grumman [NOC]-developed E-2 Hawkeye tactical airborne early warning aircraft, two Airbus AS365 Dauphin helicopters and two NHIndustries/Airbus Helicopters NH90 “Caïman” helicopters, the navy said in a press statement.

While in the Mediterranean, the Charles de Gaulle will participate in counter-ISIS coalition operations, according to the statement. It will be supported by coalition partners’ vessels from Portugal, Denmark, Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Luria’s queries follow news reports last week that the Navy is considering sidelining the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and canceling its mid-life Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) in the upcoming FY ’20 defense budget request. HASC Seapower subcommittee leaders have criticized this proposed idea (Defense Daily, March 1).

Votel emphasized during the hearing that he is “confident” in CENTCOM’s capability to counter potential adversaries who might become maritime threats, regardless of the more limited carrier presence he has had over the last year.

Luria questioned Votel about the effectiveness of the Navy’s Optimized Fleet Responsiveness Plan (OFRP), which was imposed in 2015 to try and curb deployment length in favor of increased maintenance time.

“To leverage on your comments, the surge capability that’s being created by the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, where the carriers are for the most part remaining [in the continental United States] but available on demand … is limiting some of the capability you might have to respond in a contingency?” she asked.

Votel answered that the command is still “early on in the concept,” but highlighted that other combatant commands have seen success with the OFRP structure and that he himself has benefited from capabilities “residually being able to operate in my area.”

“I think we have a ways to go yet before we declare that this is not a concept that works,” he said. “I think we’ve seen it work in other combatant commands, and we look forward to trying it in CENTCOM as well.”