Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Report supports
carrier at Pearl

A commission notes the fast
response time to Pacific hot spots

Hawaii's bid to have one of the Navy's 12 aircraft carriers shifted to Pearl Harbor has picked up another endorsement.

An independent commission, created by last year's military construction appropriations law, said that the Pentagon should "consider the need to shift an additional aircraft carrier and attendant forces to the Pacific. ...

"A likely location for its basing would be Hawaii, where real estate, property values and costs of living expenses are high," according to the report released by the Commission on Review of Military Facility Structure.

The report adds, "An expeditionary force hedging against the range of threats that could present itself to PACOM (Pacific Command at Camp Smith) may demand the additional carrier strike group to deter such threats, or should they emerge anyway, to provide the flexibility and speed of reaction."

Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii's senior member in Congress and a longtime supporter of home-porting a carrier in Hawaii, said yesterday, "The commission's recommendation, coupled with a thoughtful consideration of all relevant factors, certainly leaves no doubt that Hawaii is the best place to base a carrier group."

The commission's report comes just before the Pentagon is due to release on Friday a list of U.S. bases that should be closed or consolidated under the latest Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The commission will hold hearings, starting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's testimony Monday.

Also pending is the release of a Pearl Harbor study, initiated three years ago at a cost of $1.8 million, that is supposed to explore some of the issues now raised by the Commission on Review of Military Facility Structure.

The internal Navy study addressed the possibility of splitting the more than six dozen jet fighters and support aircraft assigned to a carrier at different Oahu military bases, such as Kaneohe Bay and Hickam Air Force Base.

The last time the Navy studied the possibility of stationing 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 with a crew of 3,000 sailors and equal number of aviators and support personnel. Seven 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 here.

Currently, the Navy splits its 12 carriers between the Pacific and the Atlantic. Three of the Pacific Fleet carriers are in 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.

Guam officials also have been lobbying for a carrier.

But Inouye, in pressing his case for shifting a carrier to Pearl Harbor instead of Guam, said: "At first glance it would seem that Guam might be a better location because of Hawaii's high cost of living. But that is not the case if you look at the entire range of costs. Hawaii already has the infrastructure in place to support a carrier group. With Guam you would need to build highways and more schools and health facilities. It would be like starting from scratch.

"Also, service morale is a factor that favors having Hawaii as a carrier home port. I am certain that the men and women who serve on a carrier, their spouses and their children would prefer to live in Hawaii."

The home-porting of a carrier is also supported by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Adm. Thomas Fargo, who headed the Pacific Command for nearly three years until his retirement in February, believes a carrier and an accompanying air wing eventually will have to be located in Hawaii.

"With the wing and the carrier in the same location and trained and ready to respond in 96 hours," Fargo added, "it can respond two to three weeks earlier than a carrier on the West Coast."

U.S. Pacific Command

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