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Media General News Service February 08, 2005

Plans impact carrier industry

Budget seeks to retire one ship by October, delay work on CVN-21

By James W. Crawley And Peter Hardin

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's budget moves aircraft carriers around like pieces in a "Battleship" game.

Amid the numbers, dollar signs and fine print of the Pentagon's fiscal 2006 budget, officials reveal plans to retire one carrier by October, leaving a Florida port without its flattop and Virginia shipyards out of a job.

Meanwhile, the Navy's next-generation aircraft carrier, dubbed CVN-21, will be delayed a year. That change could further damage the Hampton Roads shipbuilding industry.

And, in a potential prelude to future moves, the Navy has socked away money to study the environmental impact of moving a nuclear-powered carrier from Virginia to Florida.

Senators and congressmen have announced legislation to block or soften the budget blows.

But Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., head of the Armed Services Committee, said he's leaning in favor of Bush's budget.

"I basically am going to try and support the president's budget," Warner said in a conference call to reporters.

"There'll be efforts made by many people to unravel parts of the budget. As chairman, I do not see a basis for my beginning to pick and choose between elements of the president's budget to defend," Warner said.

Virginia is in a no-win situation if the budget is approved as written.

While Jacksonville, Fla., would suffer economically from the loss of the conventionally powered carrier John F. Kennedy and its crew of 2,900 sailors, their families and associated spending, Hampton Roads' ship-repair industry would miss out on a $350 million overhaul planned for the Kennedy later this year.

And, if a carrier were moved south, Florida's economic gain of $270 million per year would equal Norfolk's loss.

"[Hampton Roads] gets it coming and going," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an independent think tank based in Alexandria.

The Navy budget provides three clues about the carriers. First, before Sept. 30, it says it plans to retire one carrier. The Kennedy, based in Mayport, Fla., was reported some months ago to be that carrier.

Second, funding of a future carrier, known as CVN-21, will be delayed until 2008. Previous budgets had listed 2007. Completion would slip to 2015.

Third is the study starting next year of the costs and environmental impacts of placing a nuclear-powered carrier at Mayport.

The budget rearranges the Navy's shipbuilding plans.

The number of new ships funded -- four -- is two fewer than earlier projected.

In addition to pushing back the new carrier's construction, the Navy is reducing the number of ships it plans to buy during the next four years, from 39 to 27.

Even before the budget was released yesterday, many politicians had announced plans to fight it.

One bill would mandate a 12-carrier fleet to keep the Navy from scuttling the Kennedy. It is championed by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Mel Martinez, a Republican, as well as Sen. George Allen, R-Va.

"I am one who believes that in a time of war, you don't start cutting our military capabilities," Allen said yesterday.

Crawley reports for the Washington bureau of Media General News Service. Hardin reports from Washington for the Times-Dispatch.


Copyright 2005, MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE