ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy wants to base a second carrier in the Western Pacific — either in Guam or Hawaii — but debate remains on when, or even if, that will happen, said one of the Navy’s top leaders at the Pentagon.

“The discussion has been about Hawaii and Guam, but it has centered principally on Hawaii,” Vice Adm. Joseph Sestak, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare requirements and programs, told reporters Tuesday.

“The specifics of that are interesting, in that the ability to be in the Western Pacific like we are in Japan gives us speed and response,” said Sestak. Stationed in Yokosuka, the USS Kitty Hawk is currently the Navy’s only carrier based overseas.

“The issue now has to continue to be worked, but there is a commitment to look at putting another one out there.”

Clarifying Sestak’s comments, an aide added, “The Navy has decided that it wants a second carrier homeported overseas, but the final decision on if that will happen and then where it will go will happen through the Quadrennial Defense Review.”

The review, which is mandated by Congress every four years, is the Pentagon’s top-to-bottom scrub of the long-term roles, missions, manning, programs and posture of the four services. The QDR, which is just getting started, is due to be wrapped up later this year.

Going into the effort, Sestak said officials are leaning toward Hawaii over Guam as the likely choice for the home of a second forward-based carrier.

“I think they both — in the studies that were done — portended advantages, but we are very familiar with Hawaii,” said Sestak. “I think Hawaii always lent itself to have a fairly well-settled infrastructure.”

Guam, on the other hand, is closer to potential hot spots such as the Koreas, the Taiwan Strait and the Middle East.

Still, he added, most of the Navy’s carrier presence in the Middle East would likely come from the Atlantic-based fleet.

“A lot of it can come from the Atlantic side,” said Sestak. “If you look at the distances by which you have to travel back and forth, it’s a long deployment to go to the CENTCOM (Area of Operations) from the Western Pacific.”

The debate on a second forward-deployed carrier comes even as the Navy is wrestling with how it will continue to maintain a carrier in Japan while also downsizing from a 12-carrier fleet to 11 flattops.

Service plans call for decommissioning both the Kitty Hawk and John F. Kennedy, the Navy’s last two conventionally powered carriers, in the coming years.

Officials hope to swap out the Kitty Hawk with a nuclear-powered replacement but are keeping their options open because of Japanese concerns over nuclear power.

“We’re going to mothball the Kennedy,” Navy Secretary Gordon England told reporters recently, but he added, “if you need the Kennedy to go to Japan we can always make the Kennedy available.”

Meanwhile, maintaining forces that are immediately available — either forward-based or able to surge forward quickly — will be the hallmark of the Navy’s strategy to make up the difference in fewer carriers, said Sestak.

“If you don’t have the speed to get to the conflict when you really need to be there, you’re interesting, but irrelevant,” said Sestak.

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