WASHINGTON - The Navy said Tuesday it would move the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan from San Diego to Japan next year so another carrier could come home for maintenance.
The shuffle will allow the Navy to keep one carrier deployed in the western Pacific, where tensions have flared in recent months over a tiny Japanese-controlled island chain also claimed by China.
"The security environment in [Asia] requires that the U.S. Navy station the most capable ships forward," the Navy's Pacific Fleet said in a statement. "This posture allows the most rapid response times possible."
The Reagan's home port will be the Yokusuka naval base in Japan, replacing the George Washington, which will move to Norfolk, Va., for refueling of its nuclear reactor.
A third carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently undergoing maintenance, will be shifted to San Diego, the Navy said.
The move means San Diego will continue to be the home port for two carriers. The Carl Vinson is also based there.
The Navy currently has 10 carriers, one of which is usually undergoing maintenance that can take several years to complete.
The Pentagon has said that the disputed island chain, known as the Senkakus in Japan and as the Diaoyus in China, is covered by the U.S.-Japan defense treaty, which requires the U.S. to come to Japan's aid if it is attacked.
U.S officials have urged China and Japan to peacefully resolve the dispute, but tensions flared in November when Beijing declared all planes entering an "air defense zone" in the East China Sea near the islands would have to identify themselves.
The George Washington deployed in November to the Philippines to help with relief efforts after a typhoon hit the islands.
The U.S. also keeps a carrier air wing, consisting of several squadrons of strike aircraft capable of operating off a carrier, in Japan, along with several squadrons of the Air Force's most advanced land-based fighters.
The Reagan has operated from San Diego since 2004.