Navy to homeport USS Gerald R. Ford in Virginia, lawmakers say
By Published: March 13, 2015
NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Hampton Roads’ military-dependent economy is getting a boost with the Navy’s decision to homeport its newest aircraft carrier in Norfolk and also will see lengthy visits in coming years from thousands of sailors on carriers temporarily positioned here.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who was briefed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, said Thursday the Gerald R. Ford will be based at Norfolk Naval Station – enlarging the region’s carrier fleet by one for at least a few years.
In addition, the Navy has canceled its plans to remove all amphibious assault ships from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek and to decommission its deep-water port, Warner said. Instead, the Navy has increased the base’s amphibious ship fleet from three to five and is committed to keeping the port operational.
The combination of the carrier decisions and the Little Creek upgrades “is a reflection of the world-class facilities that we have,” Warner said in a telephone interview. “The Navy believes that this is clearly the premier homeport.”
The decision will add fuel to the region’s economy. One carrier pumps about $100 million to $125 million a year into Hampton Roads in the form of Navy and civilian pay checks as well as supply purchases and government contracts, said Craig Quigley, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance.
The timetable for some of the changes is in flux.
However, the Ford – under construction at Newport News Shipbulding – is expected to join the Navy’s fleet in the summer of 2016. When it arrives, five carriers would be positioned in Norfolk. A sixth would be at Newport News Shipbuilding undergoing a midlife overhaul, Warner said.
Norfolk will be the homeport to four ships, while a succession of Pacific-based carriers will temporarily be positioned in Hampton Roads as they either await refueling at Newport News or come out of the shipyard.
Later in 2016, the Abraham Lincoln is expected to complete a midyear overhaul at Newport News and will be kept in Hampton Roads until 2018, when it returns to the West Coast. The Ford and Lincoln will join the Harry S. Truman, the George H.W. Bush and the Dwight D. Eisenhower that are ported in Norfolk. At some point after the Lincoln leaves Newport News, the carrier George Washington, based in Japan, is expected to travel to the shipyard for its three-year midlife overhaul. “This – for a number of years – will mean additional economic activity,” Warner said.
The fight to boost Navy operations in the region was a joint effort, Warner said, by him, other congressional representatives and local government leaders.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine said a statement: “The temporary addition of another carrier will bring thousands of new sailors and their families to the region, and our shipyards and shipbuilding industry will benefit greatly from the opportunity to take on more projects in support of our nation’s naval forces.”
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, who also was briefed by Mabus, welcomed the periodic stays by Pacific-based carriers.
The Navy’s plans to decommission Little Creek stemmed from significant problems with its electrical supply system. The base had endured occasional power outages in recent years because of pressures on an antiquated system.
After spending $30 million to repair the base’s electrical supply problems, the Navy changed its plans, Warner said. The two additional ships now at Little Creek were moved from nearby Norfolk Naval Station.
Quigley said Little Creek’s other operations, including the Navy SEALs, salvage ships and high-speed vessels, are unaffected.
Warner said the Navy’s decision to expand rather the decommission Little Creek’s port comes with another bonus. It helps make Hampton Roads more attractive should the Pentagon continue to consolidate operations or be allowed to carry out another round of base closings, he said.
“This gives us one more deep-water port facility,” he said. “Future consolidations could actually take place not just in Norfolk but also in Little Creek.”
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