06 December 2011

Senate to Navy: Study keeping frigates

Naval Station Mayport, Fla., hosted 22 ships, including an aircraft carrier, 5 years ago. The number has been declining ever since. Here, ships are moored before a 2009 multinational exercise 
The Senate has called for the Navy to study whether to move more destroyers to Mayport, Fla., to offset the scrapping of frigates, which is winnowing the number of ships homeported there, or to consider frigate life extensions as a means of reducing the damage to Mayport’s shipyard and repair industry.

The study was included as part of the $662 billion defense authorization bill, which passed the Senate on Dec. 1 and now heads into conference committee with the House. The specific Mayport amendment was introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

The Navy plans to decommission four ships in 2012. Three of those, all frigates, are homeported in Mayport: the Boone, Stephen W. Groves and John L. Hall. Their decommissioning would leave Mayport with 16 ships.

In the amendment, Nelson asked the Navy to consider extending the service lives of frigates “in light of continued delays in deliveries of the littoral combat ship[s].” He also asked the Navy to weigh stationing more ships in Mayport or sending them to Mayport for maintenance.

There are no littoral combat ships based in Mayport; those ships won’t start to arrive until 2016, according to a congressional aide. All 11 frigates homeported in Mayport are slated to be scrapped by then.

This gap could force the Mayport ship repair industry into cutbacks and layoffs, a possibility that concerns Nelson.

“Senator Nelson has been pressing the Navy for some time for a plan,” said his spokesman, Bryan Gulley. “How are you going to address the possibility that the repair industry there could be harmed?”

He said the senator’s amendment aims to “simply require the Navy to take a look at whether there are any options and what are the feasibility of these options.”

Mayport has been steadily losing ships and sailors over the past decade. Five years ago, 22 ships and 13,272 sailors were stationed there, including the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, which was decommissioned in 2007. The Navy plans to move a carrier to Mayport in the future, but has not said which one.

About 9,000 sailors are stationed in Mayport, according to Naval Station Mayport spokesman Bill Austin.

Navy officials have said in the past that Mayport was a likely East Coast LCS base.

“No final homeporting decision has been made, pending the completion of the environmental assessment” in mid-2012, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Alana Garas said. She said no decision had been made about the number of LCS ships to be homeported in Mayport and was unable to provide an estimate.

Source: The Navy Times. By Sam Fellman. 4 December 2011

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