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Sen. Nelson Asks Navy to Identify Carrier for Mayport, Sen. Webb Slams Decision

2:22 PM, Feb 15, 2010   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is urging the Navy to identify the nuclear carrier it intends to relocate to Naval Station Mayport. Nelson made the request in a letter last Friday to the Secretary of the Navy.

"Specifying which carrier is to be based at Mayport will be helpful as Congress considers the annual defense spending plans for the next several years," Nelson wrote. "I will, as appropriate, seek the funds necessary to expedite all the upgrades at Mayport."

So far, Congress has approved approximately $70 million of the estimated $500 million needed make the base capable of housing a nuclear carrier.

Two weeks ago, the Department of Defense released its Quadrennial Defense Review, in which the DOD stated its intent to move a carrier to Mayport, a decision praised by Florida's leaders and slammed by Virginia's.

Last week, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said the QDR "Completely Contradicts Its Own Fiscal and Strategic Logic."

Here is the full text of Nelson's letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus:

Dear Secretary Mabus:

I was scheduled to meet with your chief of naval operations last week and intended to discuss, among other things, the Navy's recently announced decision to homeport a nuclear carrier at Naval Station Mayport.  Unfortunately, the meeting was canceled due to the blizzard.  I'm sure he and I will be talking soon.

Meantime, I am writing to ask whether you could identify which of the Atlantic fleet's carriers will move to Mayport in Jacksonville.

Specifying which carrier is to be based at Mayport will be helpful as Congress considers the annual defense spending plans for the next several years.  I will as appropriate seek the funds necessary to expedite all the upgrades at Mayport.

I also think it's important that the affected communities get the maximum amount of information about this transition.

I look forward to your response, and continuing to work closely with you on this and other issues of national security.

Sincerely,

Bill Nelson

Here are the complete comments from Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy, regarding the DOD's decision to move a carrier:

"I and other members of the Virginia delegation appreciate that after two months of requests, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy met with us last week regarding the findings of the Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDR).  At the conclusion of this meeting, I was deeply disappointed in the clear contradictions contained in this review.  On the one hand the review calls for a billion dollars to be spent in building a 'redundant' facility that would transfer a nuclear powered aircraft carrier to Mayport, Florida.  On the other, DOD and the Navy claim they must continue to grow the size of the Navy from its current level of 287 ships to a minimum of 313 combatants. 
 
"Having spent five years in the Pentagon, including for years as assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy, I must emphasize that the QDR is a planning document, without the force of law.  Clearly, the realities of our economy, our strategic necessities, and the limitations that will be placed on the DOD budget make it very unlikely that the Navy could spend a billion dollars on a 'nice to have' nuclear facility in Mayport, which Secretary Flournoy and others actually categorize as 'redundant,' and also rebuild the Navy to a minimum of 313 combatants, a goal that I strongly support.  Instead of putting this billion dollars into a redundant facility, the Navy should put it into building two more ships. 
 
"Many strategic realities face our Navy, our Department of Defense, and our country.  The size of the fleet is a strategic concern.  Procuring the right sort of weapon systems, aircraft and technology is a vital strategic concern.  The serious backlog in ship repair and maintenance is a strategic concern.  And every one of these concerns affects the ability of our Navy to do its job today and in the immediate future.
 
"As long as these strategic necessities remain unfilled, and particularly until our ship building program is on a clear trajectory that will take the Navy back to 313 ships, I will oppose any expenditure toward a nuclear upgrade in Mayport, Florida."

Sen. Nelson (D-FL), along with Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Martinez' replacement Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL), has maintained that a carrier in Mayport is not "nice to have," but rather a strategic necessity to avoid a potential disaster along the lines of Pearl Harbor, when most of the country's Pacific Fleet was destroyed because the ships were concentrated in one place.

Currently, Norfolk, Va., is the only carrier base on the East Coast.

MORE: TIMELINE ON THE MAYPORT CARRIER DECISION

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