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Military requests fourth carrier go soon to Arabian Sea

USS John C. Stennis
If deployed to the Arabian Sea earlier than planned, the USS John C. Stennis might replace the USS Carl Vinson.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon is reviewing a request from U.S. Central Command that a fourth aircraft carrier be deployed earlier than planned to the Arabian Sea for use in Operation Enduring Freedom, officials told CNN.

If approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the USS John C. Stennis could be sent from San Diego, California, as early as next week, more than a month ahead of its scheduled January deployment, according to Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Stennis would join the aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Carl Vinson and USS Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea, which are providing fighter aircraft and support for the military campaign in Afghanistan.

But one Pentagon official said that he "would be very surprised if the overlap" lasted for any extended period of time.

The official said that there would be some time while all four carriers would be in the region, but the USS Stennis would be deployed primarily to replace the USS Carl Vinson.

CNN's Paul Vercammen reports from aboard the USS Stennis as they prepare for deployment (November 6)

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If all four ships were in the region, more than 150 Navy strike aircraft aboard carriers would be available to Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command who is in charge of the daily military campaign against Afghanistan.

There are about 50 strike aircraft aboard each of the carriers USS Carl Vinson and the USS Theodore Roosevelt. About eight strike planes are aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, which was cleared of most of its aircraft so it can be used as a platform for Special Operations troops and helicopters.

Each of the ships also carries about 25 other aircraft, including airborne surveillance, refueling and other planes and helicopters.

A decision on the USS Stennis could come as early as Thursday, according to the officials.

-- CNN National Security Producer Chris Plante contributed to this report.


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