A UH-3H Sea King helicopter flies over aircraft carriers moored at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. A Navy fleet commander said there are many reasons to move an aircraft carrier from Norfolk to Naval Station Mayport, Fla. (PH1 ANTHONY KOCH / NAVY)
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A senior Navy fleet commander said there are many serious reasons to move an aircraft carrier from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., to Naval Station Mayport, Fla., although he stopped short of fully advocating for that or predicting whether it would happen.
Adm. John Harvey, head of Fleet Forces Command, recalled his second day on the job last summer, when he took a tour of the Norfolk waterfront to see the fleet for which he was newly responsible:
"I see three carriers on the waterfront, and I know Northrop Grumman [shipyard] is holding hostage four more carriers across the James River — I say that with love — in refueling, repairs, and so forth. I stop, and I think, and I'm looking at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel" — which spans the mouth of the channel Navy warships take to and from their base.
"A bad 30 minutes, from weather, from man-made accidents, from terrorism — 30 bad minutes at that tunnel, and we've got half the Navy's carrier fleet, plus all of its East Coast repair and construction [facilities], bottled up for who knows how long," he said.
Harvey's comments came in response to a question from a crew member of the Norfolk-based carrier Theodore Roosevelt, who was in the audience for Harvey's speech at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium outside Washington. Although Harvey cautioned he was not formally advocating for what the Navy has called "strategic dispersal" — creating additional East Coast ports that can support and repair carriers, as the Navy has on the West Coast, he said the worry about ships trapped in or out of Norfolk was a real one.
"When you look at it from my perspective, the strategic imperative for having another homeport capable of a CVN is not idle talk," Harvey said.
He told the SNA audience he said the same thing to Virginia's Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell when they met recently. Virginia's state and congressional politicians have fought tooth and claw with their counterparts in Florida over the prospect of a carrier — and its associated jobs and economic effects — moving to Mayport.
Ultimately, Harvey said, the recommendation that will matter most will come from the Quadrennial Defense Review, expected in early February.
"How that will be acted on? I honestly do not know. I do not have the inside story on that. As much as I'd like to give you a definite answer, I can't. I'm not being evasive."
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• http://militarytimes.com/blogs/scoopdeck/category/sna/">Scoop Deck coverage of the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium