The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk steams into Apra Harbor, Guam, in this April 20, 2001, photo. A recent security assessment study showed that Guam's port is prepared for physical or cyber attacks.

The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk steams into Apra Harbor, Guam, in this April 20, 2001, photo. A recent security assessment study showed that Guam's port is prepared for physical or cyber attacks. (Donovan Brooks / S&S)

A battle royale is brewing between Guam and Hawaii over which could become the next permanent home for an aircraft carrier.

A new nuclear-powered carrier is expected to replace the USS Kitty Hawk — the Navy’s only forward deployed carrier in the Western Pacific — when it’s decommissioned in 2008.

With Japan’s opposition to hosting a nuclear-powered vessel and news reports of possible shifts in Western Pacific forces, the Navy might look for homes other than the Kitty Hawk’s current base in Yokosuka, Japan.

Officials in Guam say their island is the best option.

“Guam is by far the best location for the Navy to overcome what has been called the ‘tyranny of distance,’” Guam Chamber of Commerce Chairman Carl Peterson said. “Just like with everything else, the key is location, location, location.”

Guam is 3,800 miles further west than Hawaii, cutting four to five days travel time for any warship responding to Western Pacific hot spots, he said.

That fact has become Guam’s biggest selling point in its effort to be ranked higher than Hawaii on the potential list of homes for a new carrier.

Officials on Guam also point out the nearby island of Farallon de Medinilla can assume the role of a major bombing and live-fire range for aircraft accompanying a carrier group.

The island could serve in a role similar to the one the Puerto Rican island of Vieques did for east coast carrier battle groups.

In addition, Guam’s Apra Harbor — already able to accommodate amphibious ships like the USS Essex — could be dredged to allow a carrier to tie up to an existing pier, which is being lengthened by 3,000 feet, Guam officials said. Under Apra Harbor’s current configuration, carriers making port visits anchor beyond the inner harbor.

“We have huge facilities that are grossly under-utilized,” Peterson said.

Officials estimate a home-ported carrier instantly would create more than 4,000 new jobs and pump $375 million annually into a local economy.

None of that is lost on Hawaii, which already has a strong military presence.

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration says it has ample port space for a carrier and has offered the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station as a base for an air wing and helicopter assets.

Hawaii’s advantage:

It already has much of the military infrastructure needed to support a carrier strike group.

“Given the way we’re thinking of realigning and centralizing a lot of our assets, it makes a lot of sense to have something here,” Michael Pavkovic, director of the diplomacy and military studies program at Hawaii Pacific University, previously told the Associated Press.

But officials in Guam say basing a carrier in the Marianas would have an added benefit: diversifying the island’s economy and reducing its reliance on federal dollars.

Having a carrier would encourage development of high-tech skills, Guam officials said.

“This is not a macro-developed area, so there isn’t much ability to stop the ‘brain drain’ of our younger, educated workers from leaving,” said Peterson, who also heads the Guam chamber’s Armed Forces Committee.

“A carrier would bring local jobs that would include everything from fixing microchips to performing medical surgeries to overhauling engines.

“It would be a tremendous boost for the area.”

The military already makes up approximately $500 million — 17 percent — of Guam’s $3 billion annual gross-island product.

Most of the rest of the island’s economy is based on tourism.

That industry has yet to recover from Asia’s economic meltdown in the past decade and more recent events including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and two devastating typhoons.

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