Navy Secretary Gordon England spoke to crew members of the San Diego-based USS Peleliu yesterday in the ship's hangar at Pearl Harbor. The Peleliu was the flagship of the Navy's first expeditionary strike group, which recently completed a deployment to the Middle East.

Carrier still possible
for Oahu

The Navy's top official says a study
continues to look at Pearl Harbor

The Navy is still exploring whether to assign a nuclear aircraft carrier to Pearl Harbor, Navy Secretary Gordon England said yesterday in Honolulu.

That decision is part of an overall revision of all forces in the Pacific, "if we do we move carriers," England told reporters after visiting with crew members of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu.

"This whole decision about the basing plan is still a work in process. It's too early to discuss what we are going to do in the future, because we are still examining every possibility."

Last May, Adm. Robert Natter, who was then commander of the Atlantic Fleet, suggested in a speech that the Navy move an unspecified number of forces from the East Coast to the West Coast. Later that year, Adm. Walter Doran, Pacific Fleet commander, told reporters the Navy could move a carrier from the mainland to Hawaii or Guam so it could respond more quickly to a crisis in the Pacific.

Earlier in the year, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, ranking member of Senate Subcommittee on Defense, wrote to Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, saying he supports Clark's recommendation to increase Navy forces in the Pacific.

Cpl. Raul Ipina, right, and other Marines who recently returned from a six-month deployment waited for the Navy secretary to address the crew.

In his March 21 letter, Inouye told Clark: "Your plan to bolster the capabilities of the forces in the Pacific is very welcome. ... I support your goal of home-porting an aircraft carrier in Hawaii and am optimistic you can achieve that objective. I believe this would send a very strong signal of our resolve to our allies and potential adversaries."

England, who was reappointed in September as civilian head of the Navy, said there is still a study under way on whether Pearl Harbor could support a carrier with its 3,000 sailors and accompanying air wing with several dozen jet fighters another 2,000 sailors and aviators.

He said he does not expect the study to be complete for several months. Politicians in both Hawaii and Guam have been lobbying hard to be the eventual home of an aircraft carrier because of the impact it would have on the local economy.

England arrived in Honolulu Thursday following a trip to Asia, which included stops in Japan, Singapore and Guam.

During his brief visit with 50 sailors and 24 Marines on Peleliu's hangar deck, Gordon said he believes "the operational tempo" of the Navy has not changed. "It is as same as before," Gordon said in response to a question from a Peleliu sailor. "The time at sea is still the same level."

He also told the sailors and Marines that he still expects deployments to last about six months, but added that "world needs determine our deployments."

That response struck a positive note with Petty Officer Erika Solis, who said she was happy to hear that "we aren't going back out to sea any time soon."

Solis said that Peleliu had been in its home port of San Diego for nearly 18 months before it sailed in August as the flagship of a Navy experiment against terrorism.

The seven-vessel Expeditionary Strike Group-1, headed by Rear Adm. Robert Conway, includes the Pearl Harbor-based cruiser USS Port Royal and attack submarine USS Greeneville, which returned home yesterday.

During its deployment the sailors and the Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Force were in two drug interception operations, which seized $22 million in hashish in the North Arabian Sea.


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