Thursday, October 2, 2003

Carrier could have
permanent base here

The Navy's Pacific chief says the
ship may be sent to Pearl or Guam

For the first time, the head of the Navy in the Pacific said publicly today that an aircraft carrier may be moved permanently to Pearl Harbor or Guam so the Navy could respond quickly to problems on the Korean peninsula or elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific theater.

Adm. Walter Doran, Pacific Fleet commander, told reporters during a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C., that he doesn't know whether the carrier would be taken out of fleet of five based in San Diego or in the state of Washington or the Atlantic Fleet.

The Navy splits its 12 carriers evenly between the Pacific and the Atlantic. Three of the Pacific Fleet carriers are at San Diego, two in Puget Sound in Washington and one in Japan. Six carriers are assigned to the East Coast. The last time a carrier was based at Pearl Harbor was during World War II.

Eleven warships and 16 submarines are now homeported at Pearl Harbor.

When the issue was raised over the summer after Navy officials contacted Gov. Linda Lingle on the possibility of basing a nuclear carrier here, Doran responded through a spokesman was that it was "premature" to discuss any plans of transferring forces to the Pacific.

At that time, Adm. Robert Natter, Atlantic Fleet commander, had been asked by Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, for his recommendations on what part of his forces could be sent to the Pacific.

Since then, the Navy has set aside $1.8 million to study the possibility of basing a carrier to Hawaii. The internal Navy study being conducted by its engineers is characterized as being a "data gathering" mechanism to determine whether the piers, facilities, and utilities can support a carrier, a Navy spokesman said today.

"I'm looking at where I could better or best be positioned," Doran told a group of reporters over breakfast this morning. "Would it be better to move a carrier to Hawaii? Would it be better to move a carrier to Guam? These are major muscle movements. This is not being done on the back of an envelope," the Associated Press reported.

The last time the Navy studied the possibility of establishing a carrier group in Hawaii was in 1998. It estimated then that a Pearl Harbor-based nuclear carrier would have meant an annual Navy payroll of $126 million. Five years ago the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii estimated that Hawaii would gain $375 million annually with the creation of the 4,200 jobs that came with berthing a carrier at Pearl.

But Pearl Harbor lost out because there was no place to base an accompanying air wing of fighter jets and supporting aircraft with 2,000 military personnel and more than six dozen planes and helicopters.

However, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and the Lingle administration believe that the 3,700-acre former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, which was closed in 1999, at Kalaeloa could serve that purpose. Officials have said that the reason Hawaii lost the bid five years ago was because of a lack on interest on the part of the Navy.

However, this time speaking to reporters before an Aug. 15 speech at Pearl Harbor, Inouye said that if he were a betting man, he would wager that an aircraft carrier will be based here.

The military has retained control of 1,007 acres, 548 housing units at Kalaeloa and its golf course. The rest of the Kalaeloa property was turned over to the state.


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