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U.S. Navy officials discounted speculation they’re considering replacing the USS Kitty Hawk in the Pacific, stating instead they would like two aircraft carriers in the theater.

If the Navy bolsters its Asian profile — as part of a study on repositioning forces to meet new threats — the Western Pacific will be patrolled by two aircraft carriers, Lt. j.g. Mike Morley, a Pacific Fleet spokesman, said Thursday.

“We would have two carriers in the Pacific — if a carrier were to move to Hawaii or Guam,” he said. “We remain committed to maintaining a carrier presence in Japan.”

Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, will retain an aircraft carrier, Morley added, if and when the Kitty Hawk is decommissioned. The Navy has never publicly confirmed when the Kitty Hawk might be decommissioned but wide speculation has pegged 2008 as its retirement date.

Morley’s statements came a day after the Navy confirmed it’s moving forward with a yearlong, $1.8 million study of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as a base for a nuclear aircraft carrier.

But Adm. Walter F. Doran, the Pacific Fleet commander, said Wednesday that Guam remains a viable option, according to Morley.

Doran, in Washington this week for meetings, indicated a carrier may be shifted permanently from the continental United States to Hawaii or Guam to boost the Navy’s position in the Asia-Pacific region, Morley said.

“It’s something we’re constantly looking at: Hawaii or Guam?” he said. “The Pacific Fleet has invested some money into this process already. Is there the thought that having a carrier based in Hawaii or Guam would be beneficial? Absolutely.

“Now, we’re taking that multistep, multiyear process and looking to see: Is this feasible?”

Hawaii and Guam have lobbied openly to be chosen as the next permanent Pacific home for an aircraft carrier. A carrier-group assignment would bring thousands of sailors and families; the impact on a local economy could be significant.

Morley said no decision is imminent but Hawaii officials are encouraged by the study’s prospects.

“We are optimistic that if the decision is made to base a carrier here, the U.S. military’s position in the Asia-Pacific region will be strengthened,” said Jim Tollefson, Hawaii’s Chamber of Commerce president.

“The deterrent effect that a carrier based in Hawaii would provide would support growth of a thriving global economy in the Asia-Pacific region, and this is a good thing for Hawaii, as well as for the entire region.”

Guam officials, meanwhile, said the Hawaii study won’t slow their efforts to attract military hardware.

“You can’t argue against location, location, location,” said Guam Gov. Felix Camacho, visiting constituents Thursday at the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama in Japan. “Guam is very strategically located. It’s the most western American territory in the western Pacific.” If world events continue to increase pressures in Asia and the Pacific, he said, “we know … that Guam will play a very vital role.”

Also advocating Guam’s geographic advantage was James L. Adkins, Guam Chamber of Commerce chairman. “Being five to seven days’ sailing time closer to Asia than Hawaii would be a great benefit to the deployment of any military assets,” he said. “We are quite optimistic that there will be more assets deployed on Guam.”

But Adkins said the island also is prepared for the alternative.

“If an aircraft carrier is homeported on Guam, it would be a great boost to our economy, but if the Navy picks Hawaii, it will not reduce our economy from what it is today,” he added.

Similarly, Camacho said even if a new carrier goes to Hawaii, he’ll still be happy, because it would strengthen “our role in the Pacific. … We always feel we will play a coordinating role” so any success in Hawaii “will spill over into Guam.”

The USS Ronald Reagan, the Navy’s only new aircraft carrier, has been assigned to San Diego. If Hawaii or Guam — or another territory — is selected to receive a carrier, Morley said, it would have to be plucked from the existing U.S. fleet.

“From where, that’s not been determined,” Morley said. “That’s what the assessments and surveys are looking at: Can we support a carrier here?”

Hawaii officials said they expect a decision from the Navy in 2004.

“We’ll take a fair amount of time to study and analyze,” said Morley. “We want to make sure we do this right the first time.”

— Jim O’Donnell contributed to this report.

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