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March 12, 2009

Navy to cut carrier total to ten?

The Lexington Institute is predicting that "the Navy will propose removal of one aircraft carrier and air wing from its posture, dropping the number of carriers to the lowest number since 1942," in the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.

The conservative think tank makes the prediction in a March 10 policy briefing by Loren B. Thompson, Ph.D.

Dr. Thompson says he issue is coming to a head because the pace of new carrier commissionings is not keeping up with the rate of retirements. Kitty Hawk, the last non-nuclear carrier in the fleet, was removed from the force last summer. The Navy plans to decommission the Enterprise in November of 2012, leaving the fleet with only ten Nimitz class carriers for three years, until the Ford class debuts in September of 2015.

"Going to ten isn't supposed to happen under present law, but since the service hasn't made budgetary provisions for maintaining the Enterprise and its crew until the Ford class arrives, it looks like ten carriers will be the total number in the fleet," says Dr. Thompson, who adds that in the current budget environment, once the Navy gets used to having ten carriers, that's probably where it will stay.

When the decision to stay at ten is formalized, the service can also move to eliminate one of its carrier wings.

"There's only one problem with all this," says Dr. Thompson. "It reduces the nation's capacity to project power from the sea at the same time access to foreign bases is becoming doubtful."


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