A reader tips me off to this story. The US Senate passed an amendment to a military appropriations bill that would require the Navy to keep 12 carriers in operation. This would probably undo the Navy’s plan to save $335 million by avoiding a 15-month major overhaul of the KENNEDY before the KITTY HAWK retires in 2008.
The reason for overhauling the KENNEDY before the KITTY HAWK retires is that Japan won’t allow a nuclear-powered ship to be based in Japan (the KITTY HAWK’s home port) and the KENNEDY would have to take her place if we want to keep a carrier group forward-based in Japan. Which we do.
I strongly favor a 12-carrier Navy over an 11-carrier Navy. Well, I really favor a 15-carrier Navy, but that’s a different debate.
In order to save money, the Navy is proposing retiring the KENNEDY next year. It’s unclear whether that means the KITTY HAWK would remain commissioned longer than planned (to keep a carrier in Japan) or not. The US wants to base a nuclear-powered flat top there at that time, but Japan is not going for it at this point.
The bill passed by the Senate also requires that $288 million be spent on overhauling the carrier. If it isn’t done, the money needs to be returned to the Treasury. I’m not so sure about this condition, and it might mean doom for the bill. The House version didn’t include anything about keeping the KENNEDY active, so there’s still some horse trading to be done over this.
The Navy’s top officer says that plans to retire the KENNEDY should proceed, as the impact of an 11-carrier fleet on war-fighting capability is “minimal”.
Probably right. But if he’s wrong, he’s really wrong. (Big hat tip to the reader who sent this in!)
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that a big concern that keeping the KENNEDY active raises is budget shortfalls for other projects. I want some new ships, especially some of the next-generation littoral combat ships. There’s only so much money. I hope that, whatever decision is made, it turns out to be the right choice.