Rare Sight Of Two Supercarriers Docked In San Diego With Their Decks Packed With Aircraft (Updated)

The Abraham Lincoln and the Carl Vinson are readying to deploy and are docked at North Island with their air wings embarked.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) are both currently docked at Naval Air Station North Island, which sits right across the bay from downtown San Diego. While it is not rare to see two, or even three, supercarriers in port at North Island, what is rare is seeing two of these massive warships sitting side-by-side with their entire air wings embarked. The terrestrial photos come to us courtesy of our friends @Warshipcam and @CJR1321.

Most of the time, during training, aircraft will fly out to the carriers in smaller groups and then fly back to land once the training is completed, but when the carriers spin up prior to deployment, the entire air wing will be embarked aboard the vessel for an extended period of time. This is necessary to complete advanced integrated training not only with the air wing, which has member squadrons scattered across the country, but also for the entire carrier strike group, including the carrier's numerous escorts. It is getting all the pieces to work as a single team that gives the American carrier strike group capabilities that are far more than the sum of their individual parts. This advanced integrated training includes more extreme threat scenarios that aim to tax the strike group's abilities and prepare them for what may come as they sail into unfriendly waters on deployment.

USS Carl Vinson., @cjr1321
USS Abraham Lincoln., @cjr1321

As it stands, the USS Carl Vinson is set to deploy at any time. It has been executing advanced drills for some time now, including being dispatched to Hawaii for training, but also to deter Russia's own naval task force that came within a very short distance of the island state's shores. CVN-70's deployment will mark a number of firsts, including the first deployment of a Navy F-35C squadron and of the CMV-22 Osprey carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft.

The USS Abraham Lincoln also totes an F-35C squadron, but in its case, it is a Marine unit (VMFA-314, the Black Knights). The carrier returned home from a grueling deployment in the winter of 2020 before going through an extensive maintenance period at North Island. It appears to be preparing for another deployment which could occur very soon, or at least it will be available to do so.

July 31st, 2021 image of loaded-up CVN-70 and CVN-72 at North Island. , PHOTO © 2021 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

There have been some highly interesting movements of American airpower in the Pacific as of late, as well as some puzzling strategic signaling with America's undersea arsenal. This may be part of that, but it would come as a byproduct of the reality that two Pacific-based carriers could deploy immanently, at least if need be. It's also worth noting that there is no American carrier strike group operating in the entire Indo-Pacific theater at this time, either, although that could and probably will change very soon. The HMS Queen Elizabethis in the region and the majority of the F-35Bs aboard are from the USMC and she has a U.S. escort, as well. One could speculate that the Carl Vinson or Lincoln will operate side by side in the Pacific with the British flagship as part of her inaugural deployment.

So there you have it, two supercarriers loaded up with their own air forces parked next to each other in San Diego an impressive and rare display of America's naval might. 


Some have mentioned that maybe the two fully loaded carriers in port at North Island are a prelude to Large Scale Exercise 2021. The exercise, which was already delayed due to the pandemic, is highly ambitious and is said to tie together multiple carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups, as well as other assets. Back in late 2020, it was stated that the exercise would start in early August 2021, although we have no idea what assets are slated to participate, their location, or if that date for the exercise remains accurate. Regardless, it is a real possibility and this exercise would be a good reason why the Carl Vinson, in particular, has not deployed yet.

Here is a passage from a USNI News article dated December 3rd, 2020, about the potentially revolutionary exercise:

The chief of naval operations and commandant of the Marine Corps said today that Large Scale Exercise 2021 would be the first major live test of the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO) concepts that are driving the bulk of their ongoing budget and acquisition decisions.

“We want to take a deeper look at DMO, LOCE, EABO and how they tie together. And so that’s important for us conceptually to ensure those concepts in a way we can visualize whether or not we need to course-correct, whether or not we’re headed precisely in the right direction,” CNO Adm. Mike Gilday said today while speaking at the U.S. Naval Institute’s annual Defense Forum Washington event.

Gilday said he couldn’t publicly talk about which units would participate or exactly how many ships and personnel would be involved. But he said that the event, which will take place in the summer, will involve multiple carrier strike groups and multiple amphibious ready groups – putting this exercise at a scale not seen in recent history.


“We wargame and we study logistics all the time, but we never have developed really a plan for sustaining the fleet in a fight. And so that’s an important project for us in 2021, to actually develop a plan for how we sustain a fleet – not just logistics, but battle damage. We just, we haven’t been forced, we haven’t forced ourselves to take a deeper look in terms of a plan, and we need one,” the CNO said.

The last quote is alarming, although we do know this is becoming a priority—to understand and mitigate shortfalls in addressing battle damage and sustainment of the Navy's fleet during a major conflict. 

So, while we can't say for certain, the Navy may be on the precipice of one of its most important wargames in a long time. 


A release from the Navy's European-based 6th Fleet confirms that the exercise will start on August 3rd, 2021. Based on some additional research, it seems the exercise will truly be global in scale. A Military.com article from May states:

Tens of thousands of sailors and Marines will participate in the biggest U.S. naval exercise in a generation to test how the services will fight across vast distances as they prepare for possible conflict with China or Russia.

Aircraft carriers, submarines, planes, unmanned vessels, and about 25,000 personnel will participate in Large Scale Exercise 2021, which will begin in late summer. The massive exercise will span 17 time zones with sailors and Marines in the U.S., Africa, Europe and the Pacific joining.

Live forces will participate in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

"LSE is more than just training, it is leveraging the integrated fighting power of multiple naval forces to share sensors, weapons, and platforms across all domains in contested environments, globally," said Adm. Christopher Grady, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, told Military.com in an email.

We still don't know if both of these carriers will be involved or in what capacity, but the timing does seem to fit. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com