The Dillard Doctrine

Urban Conservative Commentary on Politics & Life

Moving the Ford

My final English paper for the semester…a proposal argument. The thought was triggered earlier in the campaign season…

One of the most devastating things to happen to a military community is the loss of a major command or base. These changes, which happen every few years under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, lead to job and other economic losses and take a heavy toll on the impacted cities and regions. In Hampton Roads, there is an ongoing argument on whether to keep all five of the Navy’s East Coast-based carriers at Norfolk Naval Station. The most likely place for reassignment of one of these carriers in Mayport, FL, which was the home port for the USS John F. Kennedy until its decommissioning in 2007. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which guides Department of Defense policy for the next four years, states, “To mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack, accident, or natural disaster, the U.S. Navy will homeport an East Coast carrier in Mayport, Florida.” The FY-2011 defense appropriations bill contains language that specifically blocks expenditures to “establish a homeport for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Naval Station Mayport, Florida.”

Supporters of the plan to move a carrier from Norfolk to Mayport say that the Navy should not have all its carriers at one base, and point to both the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbor and the attack on the USS Cole as examples for strategic dispersing of the East Coast carrier fleet. Opponents of the plan point to Norfolk’s storied naval history, its status as the largest naval base in the world, and the impact that a carrier move would have across Hampton Roads. They also point to the fact that the naval base at Mayport is not equipped to handle a nuclear-powered carrier at its piers (the Kennedy was a conventionally-powered ship), and that the price to upgrade the base’s piers for one is too high. Estimates to prepare the base to house a nuclear carrier reach $1 billion.

The modern aircraft carrier carries a crew of about 5,000-5,000 personnel, including those who fly and maintain the carrier’s aircraft. While some of these crew are single sailors without dependents, many of them that have families that live and work in the area where the carrier is station. When accounting for the economic impact an aircraft carrier can have on a region, most planners multiply the crew’s size by 2.2 to account for those service members with dependents, bringing the number of people with ties to the carrier to between 11,000 and 12,000.

The economic impact of relocating an aircraft carrier is huge. As many as 6,000 jobs-many in industries outside the military-could be lost in a region that loses a carrier, with a potential fiscal loss of $650 million in economic activity.  When the USS George Washington switched homeports from Norfolk to Japan, estimates show that 8,200 military and civilian jobs-totaling $450 million in payroll-left with it (O’Rourke). For the area receiving the new carrier, the economic impact can bring a huge boom. Estimates of the potential benefit of moving a carrier to Mayport include “2,900 more jobs, $220 million more in direct payroll, $208 million in disposable income, and $10 million more in local tax contributions (O’Rourke).”

There is a carrier that could be moved from Hampton Roads to Florida with little to no impact on the local economy.  The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in 2015, and is currently under construction in Newport News. This would be the ideal ship to station in Mayport after its construction is completed. Moving the Ford would not adversely affect the Hampton Roads area for several reasons.

Currently, the Ford does not have a crew assigned to it, since it is still in its construction phase.  The ship’s pre-commissioning crew will not begin to arrive until closer to the ship’s delivery date to the Navy, and this crew is often considerably smaller than the full complement that will be carried on deployment. Announcing that the Ford will be stationed in Mayport removes the problems and expenses of bringing a service member (and their dependents) to Norfolk for a short time, only to have to relocate them to Florida when the ship is placed in service.  Many service members would likely choose to send their dependents ahead of them to Florida to begin looking for homes and employment, rather than beginning those searches in Hampton Roads.  The money saved in ordering Ford sailors directly to Mayport could be used for the necessary upgrades to the base’s piers.

For Hampton Roads, the economic impact of losing the Ford to Mayport would be minimal. The jobs created by the ship’s construction are already slated to be lost until a new carrier is ordered.  The dollars placed into the local economy by the pre-commissioning crew, when viewed against those pumped in by a fully manned ship, are minimal.

While no region wants to lose a major base or command, the need to do so should be balanced against making a severely detrimental impact to the region slated for the loss. In this case, moving a newly-constructed carrier from a region where it has had little to no economic impact is preferable to moving one that has become a linchpin of the local economy. Moving the Ford from Norfolk to Mayport upon its completion makes the best strategic and economic sense for the Navy, Hampton Roads, and Mayport.

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Written by Coby Dillard

November 19, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Editorials

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