WASHINGTON – The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii indicated Wednesday that the conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk will be replaced by an advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier around 2008.
The 80,800-ton Kitty Hawk, the navy’s oldest active aircraft carrier, is deployed to the Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture. The possible deployment of a nuclear-powered carrier in Yokosuka is expected to draw strong objections from local residents and antinuclear groups.
“We would hope to replace her with one of our most capable aircraft carriers,” Adm. Thomas Fargo told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. “This is . . . a subject that we’ll talk to the Japanese about and collaborate with them and work through as we do with all issues with a very strong alliance partner.”
Fargo said he hopes Japan will understand the importance of the deployment of such a vessel for regional stability.
“Of course, Japan has been a great host to the 7th Fleet over many, many years, and their support has been absolutely critical to our security in East Asia and the Western Pacific,” he said.
The Kitty Hawk, commissioned in 1961, has been based in Yokosuka as the successor to the USS Independence since July 1998.
It was dispatched to the Indian Ocean in 2001 to join the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan and to the Persian Gulf in 2003 to participate in the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
There have been virtually no conventionally powered U.S. aircraft carriers that can replace the Kitty Hawk.
Among such aircraft carriers, the Constellation was decommissioned in 2003. The remaining one, the USS John F. Kennedy, has already been in the reserves.
Separately, in a written statement submitted to the House committee, Fargo urged Japan to promptly implement a 1996 bilateral accord on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa.
“We continue to emphasize to the government of Japan that a complete replacement facility as identified in the SACO final report — not just the offshore portion — is required before Futenma can be fully returned,” he said.
A report adopted in 1996 by the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa calls for returning the Futenma base site in Ginowan, central Okinawa, within five to seven years, after “adequate replacement facilities are completed and operational” in Okinawa.
Japan decided in 2002 to build a military-civilian airport on reclaimed land off the northern Okinawa city of Nago to relocate the Futenma base’s helicopter operations.
But eight years after the accord, construction has yet to begin.
The Okinawa government has demanded a 15-year use limit as a condition for its acceptance of the relocation plan by the Japanese government. The U.S. has rejected the demand.
Locals said concerned
Citizens of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, voiced concern and opposition Thursday after hearing media reports that the United States may deploy a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at the naval base in the city around 2008.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, reportedly told a congressional committee in Washington on Wednesday that the U.S. Navy hopes to replace the USS Kitty Hawk, which is currently deployed to Yokosuka and is the last conventionally powered active U.S. carrier, with a more modern vessel.
“That would be extremely dangerous, since an accident (concerning such a vessel) in this heavily populated region, not far from Tokyo, could affect millions of people,” reckoned Masahiko Goto, leader of a local antinuclear group.
The group, established in 1998, has already submitted two petitions, with a total of 100,000 signatures, to Yokosuka Mayor Hideo Sawada.
Antinuclear sentiment runs high in Japan, and past visits by U.S. nuclear-powered vessels triggered large-scale protests in the naval ports of Yokosuka and Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.
Goto said Sawada holds the key to the issue because under Japanese law, mayors have jurisdiction over ports.
Sawada said in a statement Thursday that he expects the central government to contact the city in advance if the U.S. proposed to replace the Kitty Hawk, adding that he has confirmed through the Foreign Ministry that the U.S. has made no decision as yet.
In a separate news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the government has never discussed the matter with the U.S.