Marine Log

February 18, 2006

End of the line for carrier Kennedy?

The struggle to save the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy from mothballs--and maintain a fleet of 12 carriers--may be nearing an end.

Key lawmakers seem set to accept the carrier force downsizing as part of the overall Navy shipbuilding package outlined in the Quadrennial Defense Review and in the long range shipbuilding plan submitted to Congress this month.

Senator John Warner, R.-Va., Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has introduced legislation that would repeal a congressional requirement that the Navy maintain a 12 carrier fleet. That legislation was passed last year to thwart what many saw as Pentagon efforts to mothball the Kennedy by stealth.

Introducing his legislation, Senator Warner noted that "the evaluation of current and future aircraft carrier capabilities by the Quadrennial Defense Review has concluded that 11 carrier strike groups provide the decisively superior combat capability required by the national defense strategy. Carefully considering this conclusion, we must weigh the risk of reducing the naval force from 12 to 11 aircraft carriers against the risk of failing to modernize the naval force."

"Maintaining 12 aircraft carriers would require extending the service life and continuing to operate the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). The compelling reality is that today the 38-year-old USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) is not deployable without a significant investment of resources. Recognizing the great complexity and risks inherent to naval aviation, there are real concerns regarding the ability to maintain the Kennedy in an operationally safe condition for our sailors at sea. In the final assessment, the costs to extend the service life and to make the necessary investments to deploy this aging aircraft carrier in the future prove prohibitive when measured against the critical need to invest in modernizing the carrier force, the submarine force, and the surface combatant force."

Underscoring Senator Warner's safety concerns, came news on Friday that Naval Sea Systems Command was restricting the Kennedy from landing fixed wing aircraft.

Navy Times reported Navy spokesman Lt. Trey Brown as saying the restriction results from a "decertifying of the arresting gear aboard Kennedy due to structural degradation of the arresting gear sheave foundations."

The aging carrier also has problems with two of its four catapults and four of its eight boilers.

Navy Times quotes an official as saying it would require $2.8 billion to fix the Kennedy--and a dry dock is not available until 2008.

Opposition to retiring the Kennedy will still come from the Florida congressional delegation, since the carrier is the only one based in Mayport.

There will now likely be a fight to get a carrier transferred from Norfolk, Va., to Mayport. That would mean upgrading the Florida facility for nuclear ships--an expensive and time-consuming proposition.