House Armed Services Committe member Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., is among 11 congressmen who sent a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in support of current fleet levels. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Responding to this week’s Defense News story that the Pentagon is strongly considering moves to reduce the US aircraft carrier fleet, 11 congressmen, led by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., sent a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in support of current fleet levels.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., three other Republicans, and six Democrats joined Forbes in signing the bipartisan letter.
“The Secretary of the Navy was right this past fall when he noted that a smaller aircraft carrier fleet would be unable to execute the missions described in the Defense Strategic Guidance,” Forbes wrote. “Such a reduction in the Navy’s carrier force would profoundly damage U.S. national security, limiting our ability to deter aggression around the world and respond to crises in a timely manner. It is unacceptable to pretend that the United States lives in anything less than an 11 carrier world given China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific, rising instability in the Middle East and the persistent danger of global terrorism. As Rear Admiral [Thomas] Moore [the Navy’s program executive officer for aircraft carrier] has phrased it so starkly, we’re an eleven carrier Navy in a 15 carrier world.”
Republican Reps. Rob Wittman and Scott Rigell of Virginia and Duncan Hunter of California joined Forbes and McKeon in signing the letter, as did Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Susan Davis and Scott Peters of California, Rick Larsen and Derek Kilmer of Washington, and Bobby Scott of Virginia.
Defense News reported that the Pentagon and the Navy are targeting the carrier George Washington as the most likely candidate to decommission. The ship, based in Japan, is to return to the US by early 2016 to begin a planned three-year, $3 billion-plus refueling overhaul, a once-in-a-career event that would allow the ship to operate beyond two more decades.
The Navy also is reportedly considering inactivating a carrier air wing, dropping from the current 10-wing fleet.
The moves are considered budget reduction measures and are not connected to any strategy changes. Officials have stressed the US remains committed to shifting three-fifths of its fleet in the Pacific, and to maintaining a carrier in Japan.
Here’s the full text of the letter:
January 28, 2014
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
Office of the Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We write to reiterate our strong support that the United States Navy should continue to require a naval fleet of no-less than 11 nuclear aircraft carriers.
The constant state of “surge” our Navy has operated at for the past decade is a testament to the growing demand signal from our Combatant Commanders and the shrinking size of our fleet. With the United States entering an era where our sea-services are likely to be called on to provide more presence, deterrence, and engagement throughout the Indo-Pacific littoral and across the globe, we believe now is the time to reinvest in our fleet, not look for ways to reduce its size and accept greater risk. Indeed, in a letter Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus sent to us in October 2013, he stated that a smaller nuclear aircraft carrier fleet would “deliver less forward presence, increased response time, and delayed arrivals to conflict. This force would be unable to execute the missions described in the Defense Strategic Guidance.”
Last year the House of Representatives expressed its strong support for the nuclear aircraft carrier fleet by voting overwhelmingly to maintain a statutory requirement to retain 11 operational aircraft carriers by a vote of 318 to 106. There is no doubt that there is enduring bipartisan support for a robust Navy supporting a capital fleet of 11 nuclear aircraft carriers. We strongly agree with Rear Admiral Thomas Moore who stated last year that “We’re an 11-carrier Navy in a 15-carrier world … The demand signal is not likely to go down any time soon.”
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you on this issue and to strengthen our sea services in the years ahead.
|HOWARD P. “BUCK” MCKEON Chairman House Armed Services Committee||MIKE MCINTYRE Member of Congress|
|J. RANDY FORBES Member of Congress||SUSAN DAVIS Member of Congress|
|ROB WITTMAN Member of Congress||RICK LARSEN Member of Congress|
|SCOTT RIGELL Member of Congress||DEREK KILMER Member of Congress|
|DUNCAN HUNTER Member of Congress||SCOTT PETERS Member of Congress|
|BOBBY SCOTT Member of Congress|