Senators move to keep 12 carriers

Senate Passes Amendment To Save JFK

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.


  1. Situation: -+ Oil prices rising to record levels, -+ Japan relies more on nuclear generated electricity than any other nation, -+ China threatening Taiwan, Japan, and everyone else in the Pacific, -+ North Korean Nukes, -+ Japan taking a more active role in the defense of the region. Isn’t it time to ask Japan to re-evaluate their stance on nuclear powered ships? If they are as serious about self-defense as everyone says they are, I would be surprised if they did not have nuclear cruisers and subs of their own in the near future. Would they rather not have a US fleet in the area? Japan is obviously a critical ally in the region but I get ticked off when other countries put conditions on the way we should defend them. If the Japanese want a non-nuclear carrier task force to defend Japan, they are welcome to build one themselves. At what point will Vietnam be reformed enough for us to lease a naval base? They hate the Red Chinese more than anyone (remember their war in 1978?).

  2. Chuck: They’re looking at both Guam and Hawaii as possible locations for an additional forward-deployed carrier. They say it’s not a replacement for the one in Japan, but they might be hedging their bets. Carrier in Japan is closer to the action (DPRK, China) but also more vulnerable.