Future of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carrier fleet applauded in Hampton Roads

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Norfolk, Va. (WTKR) - Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus indicated this week his desire to maintain 11 aircraft carriers and it is welcome news for Hampton Roads.

"Very encouraged. He made it clear what the Navy truthfully has been saying all along is that they would prefer to keep 11 carriers but it was all about the affordability of doing that," Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance Executive Director Craig Quigley told NewsChannel 3's Todd Corillo Friday.

Currently there are only 10 active-duty aircraft carriers in the Navy's fleet, after the USS Enterprise was inactivated in December 2012.

Federal law requires the Navy to have 11 carriers.

The newest, the USS Gerald R Ford, isn't expected to join the fleet until 2016, so until then the Navy has operated 10 carriers under a waiver from Congress.

In January, the Navy announced a plan to shuffle the home ports of three carriers.

The Norfolk-based USS Theodore Roosevelt will shift to San Diego, replacing the USS Ronald Reagan.

The Regan will then become the forward-deployed carrier in Japan, relieving the USS George Washington.

That move was designed to allow the USS George Washington to return to Newport News for her mid-life Refueling and Complex Overhaul.

However, the Pentagon's defense budget a few months later didn't include money for the work, which meant there was the possibility that the Washington could be pulled out of service.

Action from Congress has now appropriated funds to begin the work on the Washington.

"You saw a broad push-back from members of the Congress. Not just from Virginia by the way, but from throughout the nation," Quigley commented.

However, Quigley offered the same caution that Mabus did this week: more funding will need to be appropriated to help the Navy maintain an 11-carrier fleet long-term.

"There are other funding issues downstream that need to accompany this though – the cost for operating the carrier, for maintaining an 11th carrier, for many years to come," Quigley said.

The next defense budget from the Pentagon isn't expected to be revealed until March of 2015.

Related:

The end of an era: The USS Enterprise takes its final voyage

U.S.S. George Washington on plan for mid-life overhaul

Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to move to San Diego

Navy planning assistance for USS Theodore Roosevelt departure from Norfolk