A California group wants the Navy to reverse course on the Ranger, a Newport News-built aircraft carrier that proved itself in battle, starred in Hollywood and is now destined for the scrap yard.
Top Gun Super Carrier of Long Beach Inc. has secured $14 million in pledges and contacted members of Congress to try and save the ship, said project manager Michael B. Shanahan. Its campaign has spread to social media and an online petition at change.org.
A few years ago, a previous group tried to raise money to save the ship but fell well short of its goal. Shanahan said his group has major corporate backing and is working on the logistical hurdles of parking the ship in Long Beach, California.
"We're for real," he said recently in a phone interview from California.
But so is the dismantling contract between the Navy and International Shipbreaking of Brownsville, Texas.
Under terms of a deal announced in December, the Navy will pay the company exactly 1 cent to tow the ship from Bremerton, Washington, around South America. The trip to Texas is expected to last 4-5 months.
As the group's name suggests, Ranger appeared in the hit film "Top Gun" starring Tom Cruise. It also had a cameo in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," where it served as a stand-in for the USS Enterprise — the carrier, not the starship.
More to the point, Ranger proved its mettle in combat, earning 13 battle stars for service in Vietnam. In January 1991, it was among the flotilla that launched air strikes in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
The third Forrestal-class carrier to be built, Ranger was decommissioned in 1993. It was the only Forrestal-class ship to spend its entire career in the Pacific.
After decommissioning, it was kept for potential future reactivation until stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 2004 and redesignated for donation. For the next eight years, the Navy made the ship available, said Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command.
One group, the USS Ranger Foundation, expressed interest.
"Unfortunately, that organization was only able to raise $105,000 of their estimated $32 million in startup costs," Johnson said in an email to the Daily Press. "Because we're not able to keep ships in storage indefinitely, the Navy removed the ship from donation hold in 2012 and awarded the scrapping contract in December 2014.
"We are not entertaining any additional offers," he said, "and we have no plan to return the ship to donation hold. We expect the ship will be removed by the scrapping contractor in February."
Shanahan's group has offered to donate money so the Navy can keep the carrier in Bremerton while plans are finalized. Johnson said the Navy can't accept private money for an inherently military purpose.
"It is not accurate when the organization says they have funds available to keep the ship in storage," Johnson said.
Johnson also pointed out that putting the Ranger in Long Beach would compete with the battleship Iowa museum 6 miles away in San Pedro and the aircraft carrier Midway museum 100 miles away in San Diego.
Shanahan says his group envisions the ship as a self-sustaining commercial attraction.
The Navy preferred to see the ship converted into a memorial or museum, which is why it was available for eight years, Johnson said. But when the previous effort fell through, the Navy decided it was time to move on. It costs taxpayers $100,000 to $200,000 per year to store the aircraft carrier, including security, fire/flooding protection and periodic exterior maintenance to keep paint from falling into the water.
"Unfortunately, we are not able to keep ships in storage forever," he said, "and so we had no choice but to move forward with this contract."
Source: Hampton roads. 25 January 2015