Plan to relocate carrier from Norfolk to Mayport makes no sense.

Jan 28, 2009 by

Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified to the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday on a plan to move one of  five Norfolk, Virginia based Navy carriers to Mayport, Florida. The move would cost an estimated $600 million and has been justified by Gates as necessary due to the threat of natural disaster or terrorist attack to the carriers currently stationed at Norfolk.

There are currently no carriers home ported at Mayport and most of the estimated $600 million cost of the move would go towards construction of special facilities associated with maintaining the carrier’s nuclear power plant. The last carrier stationed at Mayport had been the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy, which was retired in 2007.

Gates told the committee that he worried about all the carriers being concentrated at a port “which does receive a lot of hurricanes.” I have lived in the Norfolk area for over 40 years and I can count the number of hurricanes that have come close to this area on one hand. No hurricane has ever caused extensive damage to this area in all that time. On the other hand anyone who has ever read a paper in the last 40 years knows that Florida is hit by more hurricanes than any other state in the United States. Our neighbor to the south, North Carolina, receives more hurricanes than Virginia does. It is worrying that our Defense Secretary is unaware of those facts and is basing a $600 million move on his version of reality.

As for the terrorist attack aspect of Gates concerns, a Navy admiral informally told a local Representative that the risk of a terrorist event in Norfolk knocking out the entire carrier fleet is less than 10 percent. The entire cold war was fought with only one carrier port on the east coast. Additionally, the Navy decision was made without a detailed risk analysis. Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat has said that the Navy’s plan is symptomatic of a planning process “so out of control that we’re not focusing on the areas that can truly help the country, like rebuilding the fleet and putting aircraft out there into the squadrons.”

At a time when the Navy is facing cancellations of some of it’s new weapons programs, such as the littoral combat ship, the Ford class of aircraft carrier and the DDG-1000 destroyer, it makes no sense to pay $600 million to move a single carrier from one port to another, given that there is no real justification for such a move. The real reasons have less to do with military planning and preparedness and more to do with politics. Moving a carrier from Norfolk would siphon hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the local economy while at the same time infusing the economy of Mayport with those same hundreds of millions. I wonder how many Florida politicians are supporting this move? I doubt if there is anyone in the Navy who is supporting it.

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