Navy defends decision to retire carrier

Pressed by Senate appropriators, the top Navy officials Wednesday strongly defended their decision to retire the Mayport, Fla.-based aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy and warned that if forced to retain the ship they would have to take money from more important programs.

Navy Secretary Gordon England went on to predict that the active carrier force could drop below 11 ships without regard to what decision was made on the Kennedy.

"It's not clear to me that it always stay at 11," England told the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee. "As capabilities increase, we could go down."

The Navy's plans in the fiscla 2006 budget to retire the Kennedy this year triggered an outcry by both the Florida congressional delegation and pro-Navy lawmakers from other states.

England and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark were questioned by Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who said he and ranking member Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, were concerned about the shrinking Navy fleet.

Stevens asked if they would be disturbed if Congress orders them to retain the Kennedy.

"Yes sir, we would be terribly disturbed to keep Kennedy where it is," England replied, saying that would be "expensive for us and it's a marginal capability."

England then added that the money to operate the Kennedy and put it through a long and expensive overhaul had been dropped from the 2006 budget. If forced to keep it on active duty, "we would need to take the money from elsewhere," he said.

Clark added although the Navy planned to keep its nuclear-powered carriers operational for 50 years, the 38-year-old Kennedy, which is not nuclear-powered, should be retired because it had never been modernized.

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