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Tampa Bay Council

Florida’s entire congressional delegation attempted to breath life back into the idea of bringing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Mayport Naval Station by sending a letter to the Department of Defense on Monday asking for money to upgrade the vessel basin to accommodate the Navy’s largest surface ships.

 The letter stresses the importance of having nuclear carriers (CVN) at multiple locations on the East Coast to diversify Navy assets, and it cites an endorsement in the Department of Defense’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review that called for the necessary construction at Mayport.

“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 2010 review said.

Mayport has not had a carrier since the USS John F. Kennedy was decommissioned in 2007. Prior to that, the USS Saratoga called Northeast Florida home for years before it was decommissioned in 1995.

“After the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy was decommissioned, the Navy prudently decided to complete construction necessary to make Mayport CVN capable,” said the letter to the Department of Defense.

The was sent to both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley asking them to consider the improvements at Mayport as they finalize the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson were the lead writers on the letter, and all 27 congressional representatives from Florida signed it.

“While we understand the realities of the fiscal environment, our Navy overleverages risk to our carrier fleet by having only one CVN homeport on the Eastern seaboard,” the letter said. “Not only are our operational CVN in jeopardy, but our future capital ships under construction are practically co-located, risking tens of billions of dollars of assets as well as our ability to project power abroad now and in the future.”

A statement from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was used in the letter to show a lone port for aircraft carriers on the West Coast was deemed unacceptable while Norfolk, Va. is the only location on the East Coast with the proper facilities. A statement from former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus was used in the letter to show cost should not outweigh the importance of dispersing the carriers along the East Coast.

According to the letter, the Navy conducted a review over the course of several years before making the decision to bring a nuclear carrier to Mayport as early as 2019. But the modifications are still needed, and the talks of bringing a carrier to Mayport have cooled in recent years.

In November, Mabus discussed the Navy’s current landscape in Northeast Florida on his final visit to Jacksonville as secretary of the Navy. He touted the fact that Mayport is the new East Coast home port for the Freedom-variant littoral combat ships which will bring people and jobs to the area.

Mayport welcomed the first two littoral ships to the basin in December — USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) and USS Detroit (LCS 7) — and more are scheduled to arrive each year going forward. The littoral ships operate close to shore with steerable jet propulsion instead of propellers. The Freedom class have steel hulls with aluminum superstructures.

Monday’s letter emphasizes the importance of spreading out Navy forces and highlights Mayport’s strategic and operational value as reasons it would make the most sense as a landing spots for a new carrier.

“We implore you to no longer defer resource allocations needed for Mayport to continue its service to the carrier fleet,” the letter said.

Mayport is the current home to the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group. The trio of ships is made up of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43).

The Iwo Jima is the largest in the basin with a core crew of about 700 sailors plus aircraft and U.S. Marine Corps personnel when needed.

If the decision is made to bring a carrier back to Mayport it would bring thousands of sailors with it.

Joe Daraskevich: (904) 359-4308