Admiral: Would be “very difficult” to move aircraft carrier homeport from Norfolk to Florida
April 13, 2017
By Brock Vergakis
Despite pressure from Florida’s congressional delegation, the Navy’s top admiral said Wednesday it would be “very difficult” to find money to upgrade a base there so it could serve as a homeport for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
The Navy has said it wants to disperse its fleet of carriers on the East Coast so they’re not all based in Norfolk, to protect against natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Originally, the Navy wanted to upgrade Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville so it could host a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier by 2019. Budget constraints repeatedly have put those plans on hold.
Florida’s delegation had hoped to take advantage of President Donald Trump’s agenda to increase defense spending to secure money for the project, which would be a boon for Jacksonville’s economy and a major hit to Hampton Roads’. Economists have estimated that losing a carrier would cost Hampton Roads 6,000 jobs and $425 million in annual revenue.
The Navy has indicated its priorities are getting the fleet back in shape after more than a decade of war, which has taken a significant toll.
“In the current budget environment, it’s going to be very, very difficult to find the funds to get that project started,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in response to a question from The Virginian-Pilot during a visit to Naval Station Norfolk.
“So really, until we get that situation squared away, it’s going to be difficult. We’re on our eighth year in a row of a continuing resolution. We still don’t have a budget, so that makes it that much more hard.”
Virginia’s congressional delegation has argued for years that the expense of upgrading the Mayport facility isn’t worth it and that Norfolk is serving the Navy’s needs well. Past estimates have placed the cost of moving a carrier to Florida at up to $1 billion.
Mayport once hosted conventionally powered carriers, including the now-retired USS John F. Kennedy and USS Forrestal. All of today’s carriers are nuclear-powered, requiring more sophisticated base operations.
Trump has said he wants to enlarge the Navy’s carrier fleet to 12 but has not offered specifics on how that would be funded or on possible homeports.
The Navy, which has been required by law to have 11 carriers, has been operating with 10 for several years – with congressional approval. It will be back to 11 when the USS Gerald R. Ford is delivered later this year. It is undergoing builder’s sea trials.
Brock Vergakis, 757-222-5846, email@example.com