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The USS Kitty Hawk returned to Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Monday after seven weeks at sea.
The USS Kitty Hawk returned to Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Monday after seven weeks at sea. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
The USS Kitty Hawk returned to Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Monday after seven weeks at sea.
The USS Kitty Hawk returned to Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Monday after seven weeks at sea. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Capt. Ed McNamee, left, and Rear Adm. Doug McClain field questions about the recent naming of Kitty Hawk’s replacement — the nuclear-powered USS George Washington.
Capt. Ed McNamee, left, and Rear Adm. Doug McClain field questions about the recent naming of Kitty Hawk’s replacement — the nuclear-powered USS George Washington. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)
Happy reunions were made after the USS Kitty Hawk’s return from its seven-week underway period.
Happy reunions were made after the USS Kitty Hawk’s return from its seven-week underway period. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Kitty Hawk performed well during these past seven weeks at sea, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. Navy’s oldest aircraft carrier should sail past 2008, the ship’s leaders say.

Officials made the case for a nuclear-propelled aircraft carrier after the Kitty Hawk pulled into port at Yokosuka Naval Base on Monday.

Rear Adm. Doug McClain likened the 44-year-old ship to a car in a news conference with Japanese media.

“You can only keep an automobile functioning perfectly for so many years,” said McClain, commander of Carrier Strike Group 5. “We’ve never kept a ship as long as the Kitty Hawk, and with that comes increased risk. We don’t know how long the components can last. Also the cost of repair and maintaining Kitty Hawk has gone up exponentially.”

The nuclear-propelled carrier slated to replace the Kitty Hawk will be “faster” than a conventional carrier and will use little “dinosaur fuel,” he said.

The recent naming of Kitty Hawk’s nuclear-propelled replacement — the Nimitz-class USS George Washington — came while the ship was under way for an annual exercise with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and a four-day port visit to Hong Kong.

Several Japanese leaders oppose the move, citing concern about nuclear accidents in high-population areas. Two thousand people marched in front of Yokosuka Naval Base gates in protest last month and a delegation recently visited Washington, D.C., to ask policy-makers to reconsider the decision.

But nuclear ships are safe, said McClain and Carrier Strike Group 5 spokesman Lt. Cmdr. John Bernard. The Navy owns 80 shipboard nuclear reactors and has sailed 133 million miles without incident, Bernard said.

“To cut to the chase, the George Washington and the Nimitz-class carriers are the safest ships the U.S. Navy has ever built,” McClain said.

Between now and the Kitty Hawk’s scheduled decommissioning in 2008, the carrier will see a lot of use, said Kitty Hawk Commanding Officer Capt. Ed McNamee.

“The Kitty Hawk is in great condition,” McNamee said. “We were very busy the last seven weeks. We’re happy to be back among our families and friends.”

Kitty Hawk is going into a three-month repair and maintenance period.

The ship will likely get under way again this spring, McNamee said.

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