Just five months ago, the Department of the Navy concluded an exhaustive two and a half year study weighing the strategic, operational and environmental consequences of upgrading Naval Station Mayport to homeport a nuclear carrier.  The study concluded that Naval Station Mayport should homeport a nuclear carrier and the upgrades must be done since consolidating all nuclear carrier homeporting and maintenance in one east coast location would greatly limit the Navy’s strategic operational flexibility.

That decision was based on neither economic input nor political influence.  It was a decision to protect our strategic assets and sailors.  It was made after a review by professional military minds and the recommendations of senior DOD and Navy leadership, who all endorsed the establishment of a nuclear homeport and maintenance facility at Naval Station Mayport.  It was a decision based on national security – pure and simple. 

On April 10, 2009, the Department of Defense announced that the decision to establish a second nuclear aircraft carrier homeport at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, would be further reviewed within the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  However, the facts supporting the original decision remain overwhelming and simply irrefutable and I expect the QDR will reaffirm that decision.

Until the decommissioning of the last east coast conventional carrier in 2007, the Navy had operational flexibility on the east coast with carriers stationed both at Naval Station Norfolk and Naval Station Mayport.  Upgrading Mayport reduces the risk to the Atlantic Fleet carrier force and restores the proper balance to the Navy.  On the west coast, nuclear carriers and maintenance facilities are spread among three homeports. In fact, in a December 2008 letter to Senator Jim Webb, Secretary Gates reinforced the concept of strategic dispersal stating, “Having a single CVN homeport has not been considered acceptable on the west coast and should not be considered acceptable on the east coast.”

The Norfolk area is the only east coast port available to repair, build and house nuclear aircraft carriers.  If tragedy, man-made or nature-related….intentional or accidental, rendered Norfolk out of reach, the Navy would be forced to journey around the tip of South America to reach another nuclear aircraft carrier maintenance facility in San Diego.

Throughout history, aircraft carriers have proven to be key to the execution of our national security strategy.  As access to overseas land bases continues to decrease, the Navy’s aircraft carriers will be more and more important.  The Navy has alternate homeporting and maintenance options for all ships on the east coast except aircraft carriers, its most valuable assets.

The total costs for permanently homeporting a nuclear aircraft carrier at Mayport is less than 1% of the cost of the nuclear carrier fleet.  While the cost is not inconsequential, when weighed against the possible risks to our carrier fleet, the upgrading of Mayport to homeport a nuclear carrier is a sound national security investment.