January 28, 2014

Senators Warner And Kaine Urge Secretary Hagel To Maintain Eleven Carrier Fleet

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) sent the following letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel today urging him to maintain the full eleven-aircraft carrier strike group as he crafts the FY15 defense budget.  Sens. Warner and Kaine argue the flexibility of the aircraft carrier has proven to be the most important security asset for commanders-in-chief. Additionally, Warner and Kaine urge Secretary Hagel to consider the effect of reductions in the carrier fleet on military families. The Navy recently announced that due to a lack of carriers in the existing fleet, deployments will be extended, with sailors and their families bearing the brunt of this change.   

The full text of the letter is below.

The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
Office of the Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301
 

Dear Secretary Hagel,

We write to you today about the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget, and to register concern about the future of our military capability, capacity, and readiness. 

For over a century the nation has relied upon the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier fleet as the first choice of Presidents’ to send a timely, forceful response or emergency humanitarian assistance from Pearl Harbor, to Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and most recently to Typhoon Haiyan.  Aircraft carriers continue to be the “flexible force,” a critical component in our national security and the United States’ ability to respond throughout the world to military and humanitarian crises.   

As you finalize decisions with respect to the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, we write to express strong support for maintaining the 11 carrier fleet.  While aircraft carriers do require a significant investment, they are the centerpieces for both defense and diplomatic policy.  No other American asset has the capability to launch kinetic strikes against terrorists, deter aggression of rogue nations, maintain the freedom of trade across the seas, and deliver humanitarian support to our allies in distress. 

Any reduction to the carrier force represents a strategic risk.  Shrinking our fleet by even one carrier would reduce our global footprint and our ability to respond.    The Navy recently announced that due to a lack of carriers in the existing fleet, deployments will be extended from six months to eight months, with our sailors and their families bearing the brunt of this change.    We increase the chances that a ready-to-deploy carrier is unavailable during moments of crisis.  Our forward presence will decrease, and our response time will fall. Additionally, China’s first aircraft carrier recently returned from its successful shakedown cruise.  The Chinese confirmed this week that a second carrier is under construction in port city of Dalian and estimated it would be finished by 2018.  The People’s Liberation Army Navy has made clear their desire for a flotilla of four carriers by 2020.  When we consider fewer aircraft carriers in our fleet, we put the American competitive advantage at risk.

Maintaining the full 11-aircraft carrier strike group is critical for meeting the Department of Defense Strategic Guidance.  The President himself has emphasized the strategic importance of aircraft carriers.  In Newport News, Virginia last year, he remarked, “In order to maintain the finest Navy that the world has ever known we've got to make sure that there is an orderly process whereby we are continually upgrading our ships, building new ships, maintaining our ships properly.”  Aboard an aircraft carrier in 2011, the President spoke, “USS Carl Vinson has been a messenger of diplomacy and a protector of our security for a long time.  And the men and women who serve on this ship have done extraordinary service in the Pacific, in the Persian Gulf, in the Indian Ocean.  It was from this aircraft carrier that some of the first assaults on Iraq were launched.  This ship supports what’s happening in Afghanistan.”  Our Commander in Chief understands the flexible force of our carriers – force that no other aspect of American military or diplomatic might can surpass.

We understand the uncertainty and constraints imposed by the budget, and we recognize that we need to make smart, targeted reductions to our defense budget as we drawdown our forces abroad.  Congress has made a strong first step for partial replacement of sequester in Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015, and we will work tirelessly to replace sequester.  We urge you not to make decisions that would prove counterproductive to our national security and to the Navy.  Let us work together with respect to budgetary resources in order to achieve the Navy’s vision for 2016 and beyond. 

We appreciate your attention and look forward to working closely with you on this matter.  Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Sincerely,

Senator Mark R. Warner
Senator Tim Kaine
 

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