U.S.S. George Washington arrives in Virginia for almost-cancelled overhaul (Huntington Ingalls Photo)
Here we go again. Florida wants one of Virginia’s aircraft carriers. U.S. Sen. Mark Rubio, R-Fla., and others are apparently trying once again to authorize the Mayport naval base to make the improvements it would need to become home port for one of the eleven jewels of the fleet. Virginia’s congressional delegation is gearing up to fight off the idea for the third time in a decade.
In a recent joint letter they wrote that limited defense funds shouldn’t be spent on “a non-existent requirement and duplicative capability that will cost the Navy nearly $1 billion over 15 years.” Right now five carriers sail out of Norfolk and one is being overhauled in Newport News.
The official position of Huntington Ingalls Industries, parent company of Newport News Shipbuilding, will probably be no position. The line has been that the company builds and maintains the ships and where the customer chooses to park them is none of the company’s business. But expect the rest of Virginia and Hampton Roads to care deeply, because along with the personnel who serve on the ship there are hundreds more support jobs ashore, and all of the economic benefit created by those many thousands of sailors and dependents.
It is a little dance the Florida and Virginia politicians do, burnishing their images with the home folks. We are probably seeing another attempt because the White House has changed hands. You might think these are weapons systems vital to the world’s stability, but we all know they are also political boodle of the highest order. Michael Dukakis sank his chances in Virginia in 1988 by proposing to cancel two carriers.
The total cost of the upgrade to the Florida base to host a carrier full time would approach $600 million, given the special facilities tied to its nuclear reactors. This apparently would defend us against the dangerous naval threat posed by, what, Venezuela? Brazil? Cuba is within easy reach of land based squadrons. There is no strong argument for moving a carrier to Florida except to boost Florida.
Norfolk likely will lose a carrier one day but it will go to the Pacific. And when the Pentagon is ready to make that move, adding to the five carriers now based in California, Washington and Japan, Virginia’s political class needs to drop its objections. That will be based on sound strategic requirements, unless of course President Trump makes a Glorious Peace with Dear Leaders Kim and Xi.
There also remains a chance Norfolk will lose a carrier because the Navy stops building them or chooses not to overhaul one and puts it in mothballs instead, as almost happened to the U.S.S. George Washington (CNV 73, pictured above). Given the total cost of ownership of a carrier strike group, that threat will not go away.