San Diego Union-Tribune

August 9, 2001


Military's proposed cuts may hit home
   Navy carrier battle group reductions are an option


WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is considering deep cuts in military forces,
including the Navy's cherished aircraft carriers, which could affect plans for a
third nuclear carrier in San Diego.

Yesterday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz confirmed that a panel
of senior Pentagon officials is weighing two force structure options, including
one that advocates substantial cuts.

Without confirming specific cuts cited in The Wall Street Journal yesterday,
Wolfowitz acknowledged that on Tuesday the panel had discussed two
alternative proposals for the future force size.

The article said one option called for cutting one or two of the Navy's 12
aircraft carrier battle groups, a similar number of the Army's 10 combat
divisions and 16 of the Air Force's 61 fighter squadrons.

Wolfowitz only took exception with the article's statement that top aides to
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "advocated" deep force cuts.

"What we tried to do in (Tuesday's) sessions, where we did present two
alternatives, was to make sure that there were strong arguments pressed for
both sides," said the Pentagon's No. 2 civilian official.

Although he said no decisions have been made, Wolfowitz repeatedly
referred to the need for "trade-offs" that would reduce forces to make money
available for other defense needs, including buying new weapons and fixing
run-down bases.

At a separate news conference, David Chu, the Pentagon's personnel chief,
said Rumsfeld also is studying whether to do away with the "up or out" system that requires officers either to be promoted or to retire.

Rumsfeld believes some individuals are being forced to leave due to
mandatory retirements when they are in their prime, Chu said.

Another subject for study is the current practice of moving people into new
assignments every two or three years. Rumsfeld has called this practice

Rumsfeld hopes to have a strategic plan for the department's personnel issues
by next spring, Chu said.

The Navy's aircraft carriers, meanwhile, have been considered potential
targets for cuts since Rumsfeld ordered an analysis of military strategy and
force size before starting the comprehensive review required every four years
by Congress. Known as the Quadrennial Defense Review, it is scheduled to
be completed by Sept. 30.

The man chosen to lead Rumsfeld's review, Andrew Marshall, has long been
a critic of the $5 billion nuclear carriers, arguing that they are too vulnerable to modern weapons.

But Navy leaders and their supporters in Congress have defended the carriers as the ultimate instrument of U.S. foreign policy and military strength around the world.

The Navy's 12 carriers are evenly divided between the Pacific and the
Atlantic, so a cut of two likely would take one from each coast.

San Diego is home to two carriers, the oil-burning Constellation and the
nuclear-powered John C. Stennis. The carrier pier at North Island Naval Air
Station has been improved and enlarged to handle a third carrier.

The nuclear-powered Nimitz is expected to arrive in San Diego in October,
after completing post-overhaul sea trials. The Constellation will be retired late
next year and, under current plans, would be replaced the following year by
the Ronald Reagan, now under construction.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is worried, said Mathew
Kostrinsky, the organization's military affairs coordinator.

"We are concerned about possible downsizing of the military and how that's
going to impact San Diego," he said. "Any cuts in the Navy, Marines, Army
or Air Force will affect us. How big that shock wave will be, I don't know

The region's technology-focused economy depends on military contracts,
Kostrinsky said. And the location of a carrier like the Reagan in San Diego is
the financial equivalent of hosting the Super Bowl, he said.

However, Laura Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Health
Coalition, which has opposed home-porting the Reagan in San Diego, said
proposed cutbacks are good news in one sense. Her organization considers
the nuclear-powered ship a threat to health and safety.

Each carrier belongs to a battle group that includes four or five surface
warships, at least one attack submarine and a supply ship. A cut of two
carriers therefore could mean a reduction of a dozen vessels and about 9,000
officers and sailors. Each carrier also has an assigned air wing of about 80
aircraft and nearly 2,000 personnel.

The Navy currently has 317 ships and 374,966 personnel.

If a Pacific carrier were cut, the Navy still could choose to keep three in San
Diego by moving the Abraham Lincoln and its escorts out of Everett Naval
Station, Wash. That would allow closure of that base, bringing bigger savings.

The other Pacific Fleet carriers are the Carl Vinson, stationed at Bremerton,
Wash., and the Kitty Hawk, based at Yokosuka, Japan.

Staff writer Kristen Green and The Associated Press contributed to this