The US operates the most aircraft carriers of any country, but for the first time since at least 2000, and possibly since World War II, not a single US carrier was deployed, the US Navy has confirmed to Business Insider.
The US had the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed in the Persian Gulf carrying out an air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria until late December, but that carrier returned home December 30.
On Thursday, the USS Carl Vinson left its port in San Diego to head for the Western Pacific, where tensions with China have reached an uncomfortable high.
But for about a week, no US carriers could be found away from port anywhere in the world.
"The period of reduced carrier presence was planned for, mitigated, and insignificant due to the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson and the future deployment of the USS George H.W. Bush," a US Navy official told Business Insider.
The Navy official also confirmed, however, that the USS George H.W. Bush was behind schedule, leaving the US with no carrier in the Mediterranean or Persian Gulf.
The lull in US carrier activity happens to coincide with a spike in carrier activity from the US's stiffest competition at sea — Russia and China.
While the US has no presence in the Mediterranean, Russia's sole carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has been deployed off the coast of Syria for months. The Kuznetsov suffered major mechanical issues and some high-profile plane crashes, but overall it managed to achieve its first combat deployment.
In the Pacific, the Chinese Liaoning, China's sole aircraft carrier, just carried out live-fire drills in the heavily contested South China Sea. The Liaoning rattled the Taiwanese as it skirted the island during its deployment. China has been keen to demonstrate its control over Taiwan since President-elect Donald Trump broke with decades of US foreign-policy tradition and accepted a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen.
Experts have called for an increased US Navy presence in the South China Sea to deter the Chinese from establishing regional hegemony and to affirm international norms such as right of innocent passage.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook stressed that despite the lack of carrier deployments, the US had "a significant presence in both those areas and will continue to have a significant presence even though we may not at any one particular time have an aircraft carrier there."
The Navy, however, has repeatedly called for more carriers and combat ships to meet rising threats around the world.
While China's and Russia's Soviet-designed carriers pale in comparison to the US carrier fleet, which includes 10 Nimitz-class ships, their deployments have been meaningful in bolstering their perceived strength at a time when the US appears to be losing traction in international conflicts.
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