Carrier move has no effect on OLF

Published 3:54 pm Monday, November 17, 2008

NORFOLK—Despite the announcement this week that the Navy is considering moving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier from Virginia to Florida, both the Navy and opponents of the proposed Outlying Landing Field acknowledge that the debate over the proposed facility is far from over.

Meanwhile, Virginia officials condemned the idea of moving the aircraft carrier from Naval Station Norfolk to Naval Station Mayport, near Jacksonville, Fla.

In a written statement, Commander Matt Baker, the OLF Project Officer for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said the Navy “recognizes and appreciates the concerns of Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field. However, it is important that concerned citizens understand that the OLF project is not linked to the aircraft carrier home port decision.”

The Navy announced Monday that it will decide by the end of December whether to keep one of its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers at Norfolk or move it to Mayport. If the ship is moved, the Navy would need to dredge Mayport, as well as make infrastructure and wharf improvements to the base and construct a nuclear propulsion plant maintenance facility. A ship would not be moved there until 2014 at the earliest.

Ted Brown, a spokesman for the Navy, said the military would not be moving any planes to Florida.

“We are not moving any aircraft in conjunction with this project,” Brown said. “All five carrier airwings will remain at (Naval Air Station) Oceana. It does not have any impact on capacity.”

The OLF would be a practice field where Navy pilots could simulate landings on an aircraft carrier. It would support aircraft squadrons from Oceana and Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field. The Navy would need to acquire about 30,000 acres for the facility, which would have an 8,000-foot runway.

The Navy says it needs to construct the OLF because the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, another OLF that currently supports Oceana, has issues with capacity shortage and encroachment from development.

Baker said that since pilots practice landing before embarking on a carrier, practice flights need to be performed near the aircraft’s home base, which is Oceana.

“For the foreseeable future, (Oceana) is the Navy’s east coast master jet base and the requirement for an OLF to supplement Fentress remains,” Baker said. “Regardless of any homeporting decision for the aircraft carriers, the requirement for the OLF is unchanged.”

Tony Clark, who chairs Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, agreed that the aircraft carrier’s home would not affect the debate over the OLF.

“The movement of a carrier from Norfolk to Florida has nothing to do with the master jet base,” Clark said. “They’re mutually exclusive issues. The problem the Navy has with Oceana is the fact that it’s too small and too encroached upon currently, in their claim, to fascilitate the adequate training of Navy pilots.”

But Clark referred to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure proposals from the U.S. Department of Defense, which suggested dispersing assets from Norfolk to other locations— something that moving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would seem to satisfy.

“You still have the underlying issue of Oceana, that BRAC addressed in 2005,” Clark said. “It’s too small, and it’s too encroached upon. An OLF does not fix either one of those issues. An OLF does not make Oceana any bigger, and it does not alleviate the encroachment around Oceana.”

In a joint statement, U.S. Senators John Warner and Jim Webb condemned the proposal to move the aircraft carrier.

“This announcement is not supported by economic logic or strategic necessity,” the senators said. “Given the extraordinary financial crisis facing our nation today and the compelling need to invest in higher-priority Navy budget requirements, the announcement enters the realm of fiscal irresponsibility.”

Gov. Tim Kaine also weighed in on the proposal.

“While the selected alternative moves one carrier and no additional support ships to Mayport, any such action, if approved and funded by Congress, would incur substantial costs for what appears to be a limited operational advantage,” Kaine said in a written statement. “Considering the impacts of the financial crisis on federal, state, and local budgets, we question the wisdom and timing of an option that will cost the Navy an incredible amount of money and not significantly improve the nation’s security.”