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Va delegation pounces on Fla carrier move

Relocating an aircraft carrier from Hampton Roads, Va., to Naval Station Mayport, Fla., never made sense, but now it's definitely not worth doing in Austerity America, Virginia lawmakers argued Thursday.

Four members of Virginia's House delegation hope the this month's defense budget submission gives an opening to slay this dragon once and for all: They sent a letter to Secretary Panetta arguing that the U.S. should not spend any money to move a ship at a time when DoD must sacrifice $487 billion in budget growth over the coming decade. Even the Navy brass has said it would "review" its decision to move a ship, they said, so c'mon.

Here's what Reps. Randy Forbes, Rob Wittman, Bobby Scott and Scott Rigell wrote:

In the Chief of Naval Operations’ correspondence to us on this matter from October 21, 2011, ADM Greenert clearly stated that "the size of the fiscal adjustments (Budget Control Act of 2011) compels us to take a comprehensive strategic review, examining every program element, including the funding required to homeport a CVN in Mayport. You can be assured I will include your concerns in the Navy's strategic calculus." We welcomed the CNO's decision.

In your announcement from January 26, you began to clarify the Department's decisions regarding its strategic review of the U.S. Navy including the early-retirement of 7 CG-47 Cruisers and two LSD landing ships, and the delay of an Amphibious Assault Ship (LHA), 2 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), 8 Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV), and 1 Virginian-class submarine. In addition to these new reductions, during FY12 the Navy suffered from a $217 million shortfall in ship maintenance. Across the Department, you also chose to eliminate 6 of the Air Force's 60 tactical air squadrons, terminate the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 program, and reduce the size of the Army by some 80,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 20,000, among other decisions.

We have always questioned the rationale underlying the Department’s decision to homeport a CVN in Mayport. Given the breadth of defense budget reductions now being applied across the Department, and specifically to the U.S. Navy, we remain convinced that allocating an estimated $500 million to $1 billion to this project would not be in the strategic interests of the Department of the Navy nor the fiscal interests of the nation.

Florida's delegation had not yet responded as this blog post metaphorically went to press, but it'll be interesting to see whether it keeps up its longtime case for bringing a ship to Mayport. The Navy's East Coast carriers are vulnerable all bottled up together in Norfolk, so in the interest of "strategic dispersal," the U.S. needs another port that can handle a nuclear-powered flattop, the argument goes. Yes, it'll cost money to upgrade Mayport to handle a carrier and to move the ship's crew and their families, but in a crisis, the U.S. might find that was money well spent.

This battle has been going on for years, but Virginia has been very successful in fighting a rearguard action to keep all of its beloved ships. If the Navy ends up changing its mind about "strategic dispersal," given all the other budget problems it must deal with, that could mean the final nail in the coffin.

Unless and until, of course, President Gingrich keeps his promise to Jacksonville to move a "nuclear carrier battle group" there.

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