Eager to show geopolitical rivals like China it's operationally ready amid the coronavirus pandemic still restricting US bases and personnel around the world, the Pentagon has ordered the COVID-19 stricken nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt back out to sea this week.
It's been two months since an outbreak on board which eventually witnessed 10% test positive for the virus forced the carrier to divert its regular mission in the West Pacific to dock at Guam, where more than 4,000 of the 4,800 crew members had to enter quarantine on shore.
But now the crew is making final preparations to return to sea this week, AP reports, even though some 1,800 sailors are still in quarantine on shore.
The ship will sail which a smaller crew of about 3,000 sailors, despite the alarming instance of 14 sailors actually testing COVID-19 positive for a second time after already having the virus as we detailed at the end of last week.
Navy Capt. Carlos Sardiello told AP when pressed over whether the ship is actually ready to conduct missions despite the smaller crew size:
“Do I have a crystal ball? I do not. But I think we have set the conditions for a high probability of success, and we’re going to go to sea and do our mission.”
It doesn't sound exactly convincing — at least not through Beijing or Moscow's eyes, who are likely watching very closely. Per the AP citing an anonymous military source, the carrier will resume missions in the Pacific before returning to its home port of San Diego. It appears an attempt to simply get the stricken vessel and crew members safely back to the US coast with as graceful an exit as possible.
No doubt whatever limited 'missions' it conducts, it's meant more to signal Beijing that 'all is well' — given that in mid-April at the height of the crisis Chinese PLA military spokesman appeared positively gleeful that the carrier and other ships had been hampered by the virus.
CNN described at the time of a PLA English-language media report: "A Chinese naval flotilla headed into the Pacific over the weekend, evidence that the People's Liberaty Army Navy has done a much better job controlling coronavirus than the US Navy, according to a story posted on the PLA's English-language website."
Top Pentagon officials, however, have consistently emphasized continued operational readiness despite the virus set back, which also resulted in the Roosevelt's commander being dismissed, and even the Secretary of the Navy over botched handling of the whole situation.
"We're still capable and we're still ready no matter what the threat," Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley had responded in wake of Chinese taunts last month. "I wouldn't want any mixed messages going out there to any adversaries that they can take advantage of an opportunity, if you will, at a time of crisis," he added. "That would be a terrible and tragic mistake if they thought that."