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Mr. Cropsey said carriers provide solutions that land-based airfields cannot.

“Carriers don’t rely on basing agreements with other countries to station our aircraft and troops because they’re in international waters,” he said.

“If we don’t have a carrier fleet, our ability to project significant combat power around the world is reduced to where we have basing agreements, and basing agreements are not only increasingly difficult and problematic, but bases are fixed targets, where as carriers are moving targets,” Mr. Cropsey said.

“In some cases, we have allies who very much want our assistance but don’t want to be seen as being too reliant on the United States, or who have political differences in their own countries in working out status-of-forces agreements to allow us to put airfields there.”

He noted that the Navy deployed four aircraft carriers, with about 400 aircraft, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“Where would we have based those aircraft? We can’t pile all that stuff on a Saudi airfield,” he said. “Aircraft carriers are not a cheap solution, but it’s a direct solution and it’s proved to be an effective one.”

Adm. Greenert said that if the two-carrier policy in the Middle East is extended beyond March, the Navy will need to adjust training and maintenance schedules.

He added that leadership also would have to be adjusted “so that, as we respond to the increased [operations] tempo, we’ve got the right leadership in the right place at the right time.”