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Navy's downsizing plan calls for Norfolk to lose 3 warships

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Norfolk heads to sea after a port visit in this June 2008 file photo.

Norfolk, Virginia, will lose three aging warships, including the city's namesake, over the next 14 months as part of the Navy's plan to deactivate 17 vessels, according to a schedule the service released this week.

The loss of the three ships — two guided missile frigates and an attack submarine that, combined, are crewed by about 500 sailors — isn't unexpected. The Navy has signaled for years that it would phase out frigates.

Even with the losses, Hampton Roads is still home to more of the Navy fleet than any other single location, with five aircraft carriers, dozens of destroyers and other warships.

Craig Quigley, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, is hopeful that new ships will eventually replace the older vessels — though the replacements would likely have considerably smaller crews.

The Navy's inactivation plan calls for decommissioning the Los Angeles-class attack submarine Norfolk in December. The 31-year-old sub, built by Newport News Shipbuilding, will be dismantled. It is the Navy's third ship named for the city.

The frigate Elrod, which is deployed, will be decommissioned in January, and the frigate Kauffman in September 2015. Both are to be sold to foreign military allies. Two other Norfolk-based frigates left the fleet in recent years, the Nicholas in March and the Carr last year.

"They're technologically and mechanically at the end of their service life," said Quigley, a retired admiral.

Quigley said the loss of the three will have a "modest impact" locally, given the Navy's presence in the region.

He said it's likely the frigates will eventually be replaced by the Navy's new littoral combat ships, which have crews of about 50, he said. The Navy hasn't announced plans to bring littoral combat ships to Norfolk, but Quigley said he hopes that will change.

The ship retirements coincide with the transfer of three Hampton Roads-based amphibious ships and 1,800 sailors to Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Fla. The amphibious transport dock New York moved there in December. The Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship, and the Fort McHenry, a dock landing ship based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, are slated to follow this summer.

Hampton Roads has also seen the departure of several other warships in recent years.

The past two of a dozen coastal patrol ships, known as PCs, once based at Little Creek in Virginia Beach, are expected to transfer soon to Manama, Bahrain, home to the Navy's 5th Fleet. The Hurricane and the Monsoon, each with a crew of 28, will join eight other PCs there. Two others were shifted to Mayport.

At the same time, the Navy is moving three guided missile destroyers from Norfolk to a U.S. base in Rota, Spain. The Donald Cook left Norfolk in February, and the Ross departed last month. The Porter is expected to move next year.

The Navy's downsizing here is driven by a variety of factors, including an aging fleet, a commitment to bolster Europe's defenses against ballistic missiles, a defense strategy that shifts more resources to the Pacific, and the decision to increase the number of ships in Mayport to ensure the survival of Florida's ship-repair industry.

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