Roll Call: Why Nimitz-Class Aircraft Carriers Are a Necessary Investment | Commentary

November 7, 2013

By Reps. Derek Kilmer, Rick Larsen, Scott Peters and Scott Rigell  11/7/2013

What do four U.S. representatives from three states and two coasts — not to mention two political parties — have in common? We represent the districts that are home to nine of the Navy’s 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers: five in Virginia, two in California and two in Washington.

We also support the law requiring a minimum of 11 carriers in the fleet.

With the inactivation of the legendary USS Enterprise (CVN 65) after more than 50 years of service, the carrier fleet has temporarily dipped to 10. (The 10th carrier is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan.) That’s one less than the 11 mandated by law.

The good news is that the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), the first in a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, will be christened on Nov. 9 and will join the fleet in 2016, re-establishing the 11-carrier fleet. But as the Pentagon grapples with a more constrained budget, some have proposed making cuts to the Nimitz-class carrier fleet and retiring the ships earlier.

These proposals should not move forward, and we are committed to helping the Pentagon find other ways to manage lower budgets than by cutting into the carrier fleet. While these proposals might save money in the near term, the potential for long-term damage to our national security is incalculable.

When news of an international crisis breaks, it’s is no secret that the U.S. response usually involves one or more aircraft carrier strike groups. This was demonstrated most recently when USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) provided forward presence in the Red Sea during the crisis in Syria.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus explained the critical role of the carriers — indeed, of the entire Navy — when he said: “We didn’t have to surge forces. We didn’t have to surge equipment. We didn’t have to escalate the situation. The nation had immediate options because of our immediate presence. We reassure our partners that we are there and remind those who may wish our country and allies harm that we’re never far away. That is American seapower.”

That power requires investment. While the USS Gerald R. Ford is expensive, the unique military capabilities the ship will provide over its expected 50-year life span represent an uncommon value and a wise choice for our defense investment dollars. In addition, the Ford class represents the most significant technological advances in aircraft carrier design in more than 50 years, and it will cost less to operate and maintain than the Nimitz-class, saving $4 billion per ship over their service lives.

Equally important is the investment in the industrial base that builds the carriers. Companies in 46 states provide the material and components that come together in Newport News, Va., to create these “100,000-ton diplomats.” To lose that skill and experience today would leave us flat-footed tomorrow.

If the number of aircraft carriers is reduced, the fragile national industrial base supporting the construction and overhaul of these ships is directly and negatively affected. Restoration of this industrial base would be difficult and costly and would require considerable time. The consequences of a dwindling carrier fleet are truly unimaginable.

We are proud to represent the home-port cities of our U.S.-based aircraft carriers and many of the thousands of brave men and women who serve on them. They give their best each and every day; we should give them our best, and that includes continuing to build and maintain the greatest ships the world has ever known.

Reps. Derek Kilmer and Rick Larsen are Democrats from Washington, Rep. Scott Peters is a Democrat from California, and Rep.Scott Rigell is a Republican from Virginia.

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