The Washington will replace the Kitty Hawk in Japan in 2008

A couple of weeks ago, the USS George Washington was tabbed by “sources” as the carrier slated to shift to Japan when the USS Kitty Hawk is retired, but the Navy denied that any decision had been made. Japanese media put their money on the George H.W. Bush, still under construction. Today the Navy announced that a decision had been made, and that they decided the Washington was it.

There had been talk of basing the forward-deployed carrier at Guam instead of Japan, mostly because the Japanese have been opposed to having a nuclear-powered ship based on their territory. The Kitty Hawk and the John F Kennedy are the last two conventionally-powered carriers in the US Navy. The JFK will be retired next year now that an expensive 15-month overhaul has been cancelled, leaving only nuclear flat-tops in the fleet after 2008. Mostly, though, the Guam talk was about an additional forward-based carrier, not a move back from Japan. Hawaii is also an option for an additional carrier closer to potential Pacific action.

Recently, protesters did their thing in Japan over the decision to allow nuclear ships to be home-ported in Japan. The city council of Yokosuka, the port city, also voted unanimously to reject the Japanese national government’s decision.

Meanwhile, Japan’s 54th nuclear power plant is about to go online. Japan gets 30 percent of its power from nuclear plants.

Last week, a short announcement about “suspending the operation of the nuclear reactor while docking” the carrier was made. The Navy noted that it meant “while docked” and that it was standard procedure.

Carrier Air Wing Five will remain the forward-based air wing after the Kitty Hawk retires.

Have I mentioned that I don’t think 11 carriers are enough?

cross-posted to Winds of Change


  1. Do you feel more carriers are needed so they can be in more places at once, in order to bring additional combat power overall, to improve flexibility, to decrease the seriousness of losing a carrier… why? If it’s total combat power, personally I’m more worried that naval aviation is becoming less capable over time, undermining the effectiveness of the fleet. What worries me particularly is the phasing out of most of the long-range naval aircraft. That shrinks the force projection envelope around each carrier significantly. Requiring more aircraft to bring the same amount of ordinance on target due to the lighter load per aircraft also reduces effectiveness overall.

  2. Personally, I would go for 1 less Carrier in trade for two upgraded battleships. One ironic point – the air force by getting the F-22, has rendered the carrier obsolete. Why? enemy airforces, are gearing up to go agians the F-22. The hapless F-18’s will get murdered if they go against a prepared foe. A carrier is only as good as the planes its carries. IMO the future of a carrier is going to down the road the Kitty Hawk did in Afganistan – being a really big helocopter carrier.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong………… isn’t quite a bit of the Japanese power grid nuclear? Why the bleep would they care if another nuclear power source was near their islands when the umpteen nuclear power plants built ON their islands aren’t a concern?

  4. James: I see the logic in that. F-18s aren’t totally useless, but I’m not a big fan. IMO they’re a jack-of-all-trades, ace-of-none. I’m more worried about their lack of range carrying any significant warload – even against no serious opposition, that dramatically limits their usefulness. The air force keeps getting better, and the navy keeps getting worse :( Flanker: Yep, 30% of their power is generated by 53 reactors, and they’re aiming for 40% by 2010. Typical hysterial anti-nuclear emotional reaction, I suspect. I’m getting really sick of it. The media is complicit in this misconception.

  5. Nicholas: All of the above. Mostly I’m concerned that an 11-carrier fleet, with a few of them always in the middle of lenghty overhauls, leaves too few ‘on call’ for times when there are either a) several spots requiring the attention of a couple carriers (Iraq/Syria and Korea, for instance) or b) when one spot requires a lengthy commitment of several carriers (a Taiwan staredown, anybody?). Of course, we could make it happen. But just like a couple extra divisions of troops sure would make things look a lot different right now, I’m afraid that we’re going to end up in a corner (maybe soon) where we’re wondering how quickly we can un-mothball and re-crew a retired flat-top. The problem is, 99% of the time you don’t need it. Right now, in fact, we don’t usually need 11 carriers. But we’re fighting a GLOBAL war, here. As for the capability of naval aviation, I don’t disagree. I’m very concerned that they’ve finally been outmaneuvered by the Air Force guys.

  6. Maybe it’s time for the Navy to take another look at the Arsenal ships as a quick way to enhance force projection. A small tanker converted to carry an extended range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) or a large number of Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) could be useful. The ship would carry a skeleton crew & networked into the AEGIS Weapons System. Basically using the fire control & targeting systems of the supporting fleet. Another possibility would be to create smaller UCAV Aircraft Carriers, similar to the old WWII Escort Carriers. Having these ships could fill the gaps of not having enough of the larger Nimitz class.

  7. Camp – nice ideas, and most likely something that should seriously considered. However, its never going to happen, instead the Navy gets 8 DD(X) destroyers. I hope the Air keeps the Buff’s upto date on their sea control missions.