No one, it seems, is ready to let JFK die. Certainly not U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who has proposed that NATO take ownership of the soon-to-be-mothballed U.S. aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. Not that they can afford the thing. Or have the aircraft to fly off of it.Read the hilarious details in Aerospace Daily.Hunter apparently envisions NATO operating helicopters and "vertical-lift aircraft" (ie, tilt-rotors, which no NATO nation besides the U.S. owns). While NATO has successfully pooled its resources to operate a small fleet of E-3 AWACS, and will probably do the same with future fleets of ground-surveillance aircraft and airlifters, it neither needs an aircraft carrier nor has the $200 million per year it would take to keep one in service. For the record, NATO's annual budget is just $1.5 billion, a third of which comes from the U.S.This is the latest -- but not wackiest! -- scheme to keep the JFK in service. Last year, when the Navy proposed axing the Kennedy to fund new shipbuilding, Rep. John Warner (R-Vir.) and his allies with economic ties to big naval facilities tried a million and one things to save the old ship. The loopiest scheme involved foisting the flattop on the Coast Guard -- yes, that Coast Guard -- for use as a mobile disaster-relief base.Madness.For the record: while cost-effective in terms of their ability to persist in hostile environments and put lots of bombs on targets, carriers are enormously expensive and manpower-intensive. Except for long-term, high-intensity operations, they're not worth the hundreds of millions of dollars annually it takes just to keep them afloat. That's why only the U.S. Navy (and soon the Royal Navy) operates large carriers. If the Coast Guard were to take on a carrier, it would have to abandon its long-overdue Deepwater shipbuilding plan.Besides, disaster relief is a secondary role that carriers in Navy service can undertake while working up for or winding down from combat deployments. Keeping a carrier on Coast Guard retainer would mean a very expensive vessel doing nothing for 11 months out of the year.NATO cannot afford a carrier any more than the Coast Guard can. Nor does NATO need a carrier when member states such as the U.S., Great Britain, France, Spain and Italy already contribute large and small carriers to NATO operations.But this isn't really about giving NATO carrier capability. This is about sour grapes. Hunter: "Typically the United States brings the T-bone steaks and some of our allies bring the plastic forks. The John F. Kennedy might be a center for ... inspiring our allies to do more with respect to defense."Yes, it's true that most of our NATO allies spend less of their GDP on defense than we and the Brits do. A serious commitment to collective defense is in order. But saddling the cash-strapped alliance with an old, redundant aircraft carrier is not going to help.In fact, it would only hurt.The JFK's ship has sailed (ha ha). Let her go.--David Axe
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