Navy needs 11 carriers, chief says

Navy chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert says the Navy needs 11 aircraft carriers to meet security demands despite the Pentagon’s plan to retire one and bring the count down to 10 to meet caps on defense spending.

“When I look out in the future, we need at least 11 carriers,” Greenert said Wednesday at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington.

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“We would have to change the way we do presence, and the way we think about contingency response if we go to 10 aircraft carriers,” Greenert said.

Greenert’s comments come despite the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recommendation to retire the USS George Washington in 2016.

Hagel’s 2015 defense budget request did not include money to refuel the carrier — a necessary step to extend its life for an additional 25 years and keep it in the fleet.

Hagel and defense officials have urged Congress to lift defense budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, but say retiring the carrier and other tough decisions are necessary if the cuts continue.

Already, a shortage of current carrier availability will leave a four-month gap without a single carrier in the Asia-Pacific late next year, which Navy officials and lawmakers have expressed concern over as the U.S. attempts to shift focus and resources there as part of its “Asia pivot.”

Greenert said that gap was "clearly [worrisome]."

He also said gaps in carrier coverage would not necessarily be filled by extending ship deployments.

“It’s either a gap, as you compare it to today, or you say, ‘You need to change the presence model, of what you need, and where you need it,’ ” Greenert said.