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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — It’s hard to tell that the USS Kitty Hawk is on the verge of being decommissioned.

New non-skid is being laid on the 45-year-old flight deck. It’s getting more than $35 million in repairs and improvements before its summer underway period, and more millions will be spent when it returns.

Although the ship will be “withdrawn from active service” in a year, it’s pretty much business as usual aboard the Navy’s oldest carrier, said Airman Yancy Chandler, who has worked aboard the forward-deployed carrier for two years.

“It’s like the normal routine around here,” Chandler said.

And that’s the way leadership likes it, said Kitty Hawk Command Master Chief Petty Officer Ashley Smith.

“The worst thing you can do on a ship is to tell everyone you’re decommissioning,” Smith said recently. He has decommissioned two ships in his Navy career. “Once you start talking about it, people lose focus.”

Although the announcement was made in 2005 that the Kitty Hawk would be decommissioned upon replacement by the USS George Washington in 2008, the ship has received neither a decommissioning notice nor a decommission date.

But that doesn’t mean preparations aren’t under way.

Plans are in the works for Kitty Hawk to transfer its embarked aircraft squadrons and equipment to the George Washington in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in summer 2008, said Commander, Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander, using information from Naval Air Forces Pacific.

Actual decommissioning will take place in San Diego, Nylander said. The ship will be towed and “deactivated” in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Wash.

Like its predecessor — the USS Independence — the Kitty Hawk will remain fully mission-capable until the ship is berthed for its “deactivation,” Nylander said.

This differs from the plan for the USS John F. Kennedy — the only other fossil-fuel carrier in the Navy’s fleet — scheduled for decommissioning March 23 in Mayport, Fla.

The Navy cancelled “Big John’s” $350 million overhaul in 2005 due to extensive maintenance costs and made the ship a training platform. Plans are for the ship to be “mothballed” in the Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia.

But there is no slowdown planned for Kitty Hawk, Smith said. The crew will continue launching and recovering aircraft until they decommission, he said, while working with the transition team to prepare for the changeover and move.

“We act like Kitty Hawk will be around for the next 10 years,” Smith said. “We’re working and training, but knowledge that it’s coming is in the back of our mind.”

Kitty Hawk’s final resting place has yet to be determined, but the Navy has six options to choose from once the ship is struck from the Naval Vessel Register, Nylander said.

They include: Foreign Military Sales transfers; transfers to the Maritime Administration, Coast Guard or other U.S. agencies; memorial/museum donation; scrapping; sinking in experimental use/fleet training; and ship reefing.

“Due to the size and complexity of Kitty Hawk, some of these methods may not be viable for the ship,” Nylander said. In general, ships are disposed of in the manner most advantageous to the Navy, he said.

Though he’d like to see the Kitty Hawk stick around, Smith commented that “mothballing still costs a lot of money.”

Chandler said he’d like to see Kitty Hawk as a museum.

“Since it’s the oldest ship in U.S. Navy, I’d like to see it as a museum,” Chandler said. “I would take my grandkids there.”

Where are the carriers now?

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