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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 8, 2005

Study lists pros, cons of basing carrier here

By Dennis Camire
Gannett News Service

A preliminary report by a federal commission concludes it makes strategic sense to shift another Navy aircraft carrier group to the Pacific, and Hawai'i is the likely location.

However, the report by the Overseas Basing Commission also warns it would be expensive to place a carrier group in Pearl Harbor because of land prices and the high cost of living.

The panel does not specifically recommend a Hawai'i-based carrier, but members of the state's congressional delegation said they found the document encouraging.

Dan Inouye

"I am pleased that the commission has concluded that the current world situation calls for the presence of another carrier group in the Pacific," said Sen. Dan Inouye, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. He said there is "no doubt" Hawai'i is the best place in the Pacific for a carrier group, citing many advantages that the state has over Guam.

"Hawai'i already has the infrastructure in place to support a carrier group," he said. "With Guam, you would need to build highways and more schools and health facilities. It would be like starting from scratch."

Inouye also cited military morale as a factor that weighs in Hawai'i's favor. "I am certain that the men and women who serve on a carrier, their spouses and their children would prefer to live in Hawai'i."

Half of the United States' dozen carriers are based on the East Coast, five are on the West Coast and one nonnuclear carrier is in Yokosuka, Japan. There has not been a carrier based at Pearl Harbor since World War II, but new attention has focused on potential threats in the Pacific since the end of the Cold War.

Navy Secretary Gordon England has said there is a "strong desire" to base a carrier in Guam or Hawai'i.

Business groups have lobbied for a Hawai'i-based carrier, which would bring about 5,000 crew members and an air wing of 70 to 80 aircraft as well as escort ships.

Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Alexandria, Va., said the commission findings highlight the obvious: that a carrier in Hawai'i could reach the western Pacific or Indian Ocean far more quickly than one based in San Diego or Washington state.

"There is a lot of simple geographical sense to wanting one of your aircraft carriers stationed in Hawai'i," he said.

As for Guam, Thompson said he has heard Navy estimates that it would cost $5 billion to prepare the island territory to accept a carrier and its crew, which is as much as the cost of a carrier itself.

"Obviously, Hawai'i would cost less," he said. "Even with the cost of housing in Hawai'i, it would be a lot easier to find a place to stick the crew and an air wing than it would in Guam."

The report calls for strong congressional oversight in the revamping of military bases overseas.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, said he agrees that the U.S. Mainland is too far away from the action and finds that Hawai'i fits the bill for providing a closer location. "I believe that does make the case for a carrier strike group here in Hawai'i," said Case, whose 2nd Congressional District encompasses rural O'ahu as well as the Neighbor Islands.

Michael Pavkovic, director of the diplomacy and military studies program at Hawai'i Pacific University, said the commission's conclusions that a carrier should be shifted to the Pacific almost automatically points to Hawai'i.

For one thing, Guam probably doesn't have the political clout to get a carrier based there, he said. For another, Hawai'i has valuable infrastructure such as housing and the Pearl Harbor shipyard that would be needed by a carrier group, Pavkovic said.

If another carrier is to be based in the Pacific, "I'm not sure there would be much of an alternative other than Hawai'i," he said.

The Overseas Basing Commission, which will issue its final report in mid-August, concluded that a carrier group in Hawai'i may be needed to deter regional threats or cope with other threats that emerge, but warned that the political and economic consequences of shifting a group from the Mainland would be "significant."

The report comes just before the Pentagon is expected to announce its list of proposed stateside base closings as part of the base realignment and closure process. That list, due by May 16, is the focus of intense interest in U.S. communities that fear loss of jobs and other economic benefits.

On Thursday, the advisory panel called for the Pentagon to slow its plans to close overseas bases and bring troops home, saying the military may not have enough space for those troops at U.S. bases, according to the Army Times.

Easing the pace of overseas restructuring "is of paramount importance in addressing quality of life issues for 70,000 returning American military personnel plus their families," Al Cornella, chairman of the Overseas Basing Commission, said in a statement accompanying the panel's report.

"The detailed synchronization required by so massive a realignment ... requires that the pace of events be slowed and reordered," the report contends.

The panel, created by Congress, was appointed to examine the Defense Department's global basing strategy, which calls for moving at least 70,000 troops back to the United States, mostly from Europe.

The overseas commission has no direct power to alter Pentagon plans or policies. But the report will give ammunition to critics of the Pentagon's overseas basing policy and is likely to intensify calls from lawmakers concerned about losing bases in their districts.

This report contains information written by Gordon Trowbridge of the Army Times. Advertiser staff writer Kevin Dayton also contributed.