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A Nuclear Carrier For Mayport and F-35s at JIA?

Tom PattonIn the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) the Navy said a nuclear aircraft carrier will be coming to Naval Station Mayport. Once again, unless she is on deployment, those of us lucky enough to travel past the carrier basin on our way to the Atlantic ocean will have the pride of seeing an aircraft carrier tied up at the docks, a testament to our region’s commitment to the nation’s defense.

It has been a difficult road, and one that the political leaders in Virginia fought tooth and nail. The reason for that was simple. Having an aircraft carrier means jobs, and when the sailors and their families are in port, they’re spending money in the local economy. It makes so much sense to not put every east-coast carrier at Norfolk that one just wanted to look at the Defense Department and say “C’mon, Man!” Which only testifies to how much power the Virginia delegation wields. But now, it appears that, in four or five years, Mayport will be the proud home of a carrier, as long as it makes it through the congressional budgetary process.

There is still that, after all. Bringing a nuclear carriers to Mayport will require extensive dredging of the basin and some at the jetties. There are upgrades to the wharf area needed that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, all of which can create jobs for people locally. But the Virginia delegation has pledged to continue to fight nearly $1 billion in funding that would be needed to make the upgrades, and some still contend that it does not make “military sense” to disperse the fleet. One wonders how they can continue to say that with a straight face, but somehow, they manage.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time aboard the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy shortly before her last deployment. All the stories you’ve heard about an aircraft carrier being a small city are true. But more maybe more importantly, every time I went past the ship on the St. Johns River, there was a real feeling of pride. The city is a step closer to regaining that pride, and the only ones who seem to be naysayers are the political leaders in Virginia.

But a story we’re hearing less about, which may not have the economic impact of an aircraft carrier but is still quite significant, is the possibility that the Air Force may put as many as 24 F-35 Lightning II fifth generation fighters with the 125th Air National Guard Fighter Wing based at Jacksonville International Airport. It’s the first time in history that the Air Force has even considered placing its front line fighter with an Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve unit. The aircraft is undergoing flight testing now at NAS Patuxent River, and is expected to be operational in 2013.

Basing an F-35 wing with an Air National Guard unit would allow National Guard pilots to train on the same equipment as active duty troops. In this era of so many National Guard units being called up for active duty, this makes a lot of sense, though admittedly we all hope that situation has changed by the time the F-35s start landing at JIA. But it would also help cement Jacksonville’s position as a military town. The Navy has long had a strong presence here, and it says a lot that the 125th would be considered for the military’s newest fighter.

Neither of these developments is carved in stone. It seems likely that the nuclear carrier will be coming here, but Washington is a strange creature, and to say that everything that happens there doesn’t necessarily make sense seems to be unnecessary. JIA is one of six sites being considered for F-35s, and there will be several public hearings on environmental impact and other concerns held in the local area beginning in a couple of weeks. That decision won’t be made for about a year. But we should all look forward to feeling that sense of pride when we see “our” aircraft carrier making her way to sea, and “our” F-35s flying training sorties in our airspace.

4 Responses »

  1. I was wondering how long it would take for the Navy to wake up to the games the local government of Virginia Beach, VA has been playing. Here is a great story. A couple who lived in direct flight path of the F-18 jets training sold their home to the City of Virginia Beach. The city demolished the home and sold the land to a developer who then built a much larger home on the same property. http://hamptonroads.com/2010/01/retreat-oceana-encroachment

    Also the city of Virginia Beach wants the FAA to remove a radar facility at Oceana Naval Air Station because they want to build high rise hotels.
    Now the City Council just voted to spend $228K for a study on how to develop 4700 acres between Oceana Naval Air Station and Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field. It is supposed to remain undeveloped!

    Finally, the city of Virginia Beach has made the Navy stop training operations at 10:00pm at the master jets base. Yes the East Coast Master Jet Base is not allowed to train our pilots. There are 4 high performance runways that are designed to train our pilots and they cannot use them after 10:00pm. Noise complaints.

  2. I've lived in Jacksonville my entire life and want what's best for the city. But these carriers have been based in Virginia for a long time...and now we're talking about moving some to this area. It's going to cost a lot of money on the federal level to dredge the river and build the necessary facilities for this to work. How much of this money are we borrowing from the Chinese?

    Is this about what's best for Jacksonville, or for the United States? What happens when we're funding the rise of our future enemies to pay for our jobs now?

    We should think about this more responsibly and cut spending at all levels, not just the unpopular programs. Jacksonville is home to me, but I don't want to waste money just to help it out. The greater good of the nation is more important.

  3. I served at N.A.S. Oceana and then N.A.S. Cecil Field (then the "Master Jet Base"), between 1969 and 1971, with a WESTPAC deployment to "Yankee Station" off the coast of North Vietnam in between. I see this as petty politics between Virginia and Florida over the placement of carriers to the detriment to the security of the fleet. Given the restrictions on flight operations at Oceana, I wonder why Cecil Field, with far more open space and distance from urban areas, was closed in 1999. That, like this petty dispute, makes little sense. The dispersal of military facilities in anticipation of attack the event of is just common sense. The placement of carriers, aircraft and other military assets should be governed by military necessity, rather than petty local politics!