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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy will cut one of its 12 aircraft carriers, jettison more than 13,000 sailors from its active rolls and slow down the purchase of new ships and aircraft, according to the Navy’s portion of the 2006 defense budget proposal.

The good news, say service officials, is that with the extra $6.4 billion they’re getting over the $119 billion approved last year, they’ll be able to provide new special pay and bonus money, more housing allowances, stipends for living overseas as well as increases to fleet maintenance and training.

The proposal calls for increasing sailors’ base pay by 3.1 percent and civilian salaries by 2.3 percent.

Officials refused to announce which of the Navy’s 12 carriers would be cut.

The Mayport, Fla.-based USS John F. Kennedy and Japan-based USS Kitty Hawk are the fleet’s two oldest carriers and only remaining conventionally powered big decks.

Kitty Hawk, however, is already slated for decommissioning in 2008, the same year the next nuclear-powered carrier — the George H.W. Bush — comes online, leaving Kennedy as the most likely option.

Still, cautioned the officials amid reporter speculation, “some of our oldest carriers are not in the worst material condition.”

One official also hinted at a shakeup in homeports for the carrier fleet.

“Certainly there is concern at the Department of the Navy on having all of our carriers at one port,” the Navy official said, referring to the fleet concentrations in San Diego and Norfolk, Va. He said an environmental study had been earmarked in this budget to look at basing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Mayport.

“That’s certainly a consideration,” he said.

Whichever carrier is cut, its corresponding air wing will remain.

The long-term savings of cutting a carrier will be about $300 million per year, much of that coming from personnel savings, he said.

Those cuts will be part of the 13,200 sailors the plan would drop from active duty next year. The official said the service would save $404 million this year — and $1 billion a year after that — by cutting its active duty rolls from 365,000 to 352,700 next year.

While the Navy will be shrinking, that does not mean sailors should expect more time underway, he said.

“I don’t think any of this means more sea time,” the official said.

The Navy will add 23 new jets and helicopters to the fleet next year under the budget request as well as three surface combatants and two logistics ships. It will lose, however, a planned attack submarine, and the purchase of a slew of new ships and aircraft will be slowed down in the coming years.

In all, the fleet will go from 285 ships to 289 ships next year, if the budget is approved, but slowly increase to a planned 305 ships by 2011.

The Navy’s purchase of its new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which is set to replace four types of aircraft on the flightdeck, stays on course with another 38 strike fighters entering the fleet next year, plus another four of its radar-jamming variant.


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