SENS. WARNER & WEBB, SEN.-ELECT WARNER & GOV. KAINE CALL NAVY'S PROPOSAL FOR NEW AIRCRAFT CARRIER HOMEPORT STRATEGICALLY FLAWED, FISCALLY IRRESPONSIBLE
Virginia Senators Send Letter to Secretary of Defense Gates to Delay Decision Until New Administration Can Evaluate
Senator John Warner (R-VA), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Senator-elect Mark Warner (D-VA), and Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine today called the Navy's announced preference to create a second East Coast homeport for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Mayport, Fla. "strategically flawed and fiscally irresponsible." They called on the Navy to delay its decision until a new administration is allowed to analyze the proposal's strategic and fiscal considerations.
At a press conference in the U.S. Capitol, the four Virginia leaders cited the "fiscal irresponsibility" of creating a new homeport for the carrier in Mayporta move that the Navy estimates will cost at least $600 million to complete. The costs may well approach $1 billion when the Navy's preliminary estimates are refined and all projected expenses documented more thoroughly. They argued that this money could be better directed to the more than $4.6 billion in higher-priority, unfunded budget requirements the Navy has identified for fiscal year 2009.
Among other unfunded Navy priorities is a $791 million backlog in critical restoration and modernization projects at the nation's four naval shipyards. The nuclear-capable Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which currently has the capacity for repair and maintenance of the Navy's East Coast nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, has a backlog for such critical projects of $224 million alone.
"This proposal lacks the in-depth analysis normally expected in decisions of this magnitude," said Senator John Warner, who will be retiring his seat this year to his successor, Senator-elect Mark Warner. "Moving a carrier to Mayport does very little to mitigate risk to the carrier fleet. And the tremendous costs associated with such a move merely duplicate existing capabilities at other naval stations and shipyards. Saddling the incoming administration with a bill for new naval nuclear facilities that could approach $1 billion is simply irresponsible."
"Based on the briefing we received, we see no evidence that the Navy's announcement was supported by either economic logic or strategic necessity," said Senator Jim Webb. "There is no possible justification for the relocation of an aircraft carrier to the tune of an estimated $1 billion when the Navy has identified $4.6 billion in higher-priority unfunded requirements for its personnel, shipbuilding, aircraft procurement, and installations. This decision is fiscally irresponsible and contrary to the best interests of the fleet."
Webb continued: "The Navy cannot show that homeporting at the Mayport base offers any significant strategic advantage over Norfolk. And the strategic dispersion argument made during the Cold War era is not applicable in today's strategic framework. There are other suitable nuclear-capable repair and maintenance facilities available for emergency use on both the East and West Coasts, and in Hawaii."
Senators John Warner and Jim Webb, both former Secretaries of the Navy and members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, sent a letter Wednesday evening, November 18, to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates requesting that the Navy refrain from publishing its Final Environmental Impact Statement as planned on November 21, and withold issuing any Record of Decision "until the new administration is able to evaluate the Navy's decision with greater analytical rigor than the Navy has demonstrated."
"Norfolk has long been the site from which Navy sailors have deployed to protect American interests, and it's where our shipyard workers and naval aviators and military families have worked for decades to support the Navy. That's why this effort to have a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier homeported in Mayport instead of Norfolk is so troubling," said Senator-elect Mark Warner. "We also owe it to the American taxpayer not to waste their money building unnecessary infrastructure in Florida when it already exists in Virginia."
"We remain disappointed with the Secretary of the Navy's recommendation to initiate the movement of a nuclear aircraft carrier to Florida in the President's 11th hour. This proposal does not serve the strategic interests of the nation well," said Governor Tim Kaine. "Moreover, there is simply not enough justification for prioritizing this change. Considering the impacts of the financial crisis on all budgets and the realistic costs of moving the nuclear carrier and developing the necessary infrastructure for a possible new placement, why should the nation incur an unnecessary cost? I will continue to work closely with Virginia's congressional delegation to address this issue over the coming weeks."
The lawmakers also noted that in 2006 the citizens of the City of Jacksonville, Fla., voted against returning Cecil Field to the Department of Defense so that it could be reactivated as the Navy's East Coast Master Jet Basea function now fulfilled by Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.