U.S. Pacific Fleet officials confirmed Wednesday the fleet is launching a $1.8 million study that could lay the groundwork for basing a nuclear aircraft carrier at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The state has been in a lobbying war with Guam to become the next permanent home for an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.

The conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk — the Navy’s only forward-deployed carrier in the Western Pacific — is permanently based in Yokosuka, Japan. A new nuclear-powered carrier is expected to be moved to the region when the Kitty Hawk is decommissioned. Japan has been opposed to hosting a nuclear-powered vessel.

But a Navy official stressed Wednesday that no decision has been reached on a potential new base — or whether it would stand up as a replacement nest for the Kitty Hawk.

“Hawaii has not been picked,” said Lt. j.g. Mike Morley, a Pacific Fleet spokesman. “This is a data-gathering study only. It’s not a formal environmental study. No decision has been made to locate a carrier strike group in Hawaii. No final decision has been made regarding a replacement for Kitty Hawk.”

Still, the new study is being centered on Pearl Harbor specifically and Hawaii in general, Morley added.

“This is something the Navy and Pacific Fleet always does,” he said. “We’re finding out if this is a smart allocation of resources. At this point, it’s strictly data-gathering.”

He had no comment on whether a similar study would be conducted on Guam or any other location.

Navy engineers and contractors will conduct the yearlong study, examining issues such as required utility upgrades to piers and facilities, The Associated Press reported. They’re tapping into funds recently set aside from the command’s 2003 fiscal budget.

Guam and Hawaii have campaigned vigorously to get a new aircraft carrier, given the potential financial boost it could deliver.

Guam officials have estimated it instantly would create more than 4,000 new jobs and pump $375 million annually into the local economy. A 1998 study by the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce estimated a carrier based in Honolulu would generate 4,200 jobs and have a $375 million annual economic impact, according to AP.

Guam officials have indicated they hoped to lure a carrier group on the strength of strategic location. The island is 3,800 miles west of Hawaii, which would significantly shrink a warship’s response time in the Western Pacific.

Hawaii already features much of the military infrastructure needed to support a carrier strike group, but Morley declined to label Hawaii a front-runner.

“We have to look at balancing our carrier assets throughout the Pacific Fleet — and find the most efficient use of existing infrastructure,” he said. “Location and geography are important considerations. Where are you at in terms of potential steaming days to key points of conflict? Being close to those hot spots is a prudent and responsible measure.

“Again, the important thing is this is something we’re continuing to look at. Is there a front-runner? It’s something we’re always examining. But no specific decision at this point has been made.”

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