- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003


One aircraft carrier may be moved permanently from the continental United States to Hawaii or Guam so that the Navy could respond more quickly to a crisis in North Korea or elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, the Pacific Fleet commander said yesterday.

Adm. Walter F. Doran, who is responsible for all Navy ships in the Pacific, said it is not clear whether the carrier would move from an East Coast or a West Coast base, and that no decisions have been made. The Navy has five carriers based on the West Coast, six on the East Coast and one in Japan.

The possibility of a carrier move is part of a broader Pentagon study on repositioning forces around the world to reflect new priorities. Although the war on terrorism is currently focused mainly on the Persian Gulf region and Central Asia, the Asia-Pacific region is attracting more terrorist groups, Adm. Doran said.

The Bush administration also is concerned about North Korea and its potential for exporting the nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities it acknowledges it is developing.

The case of Navy aircraft carriers is complicated by the fact that creating a new homeport in Hawaii or Guam would involve considerable cost and raise political and environmental issues. It also would affect thousands of Navy families and would require moving a carrier air wing.

“I’m looking at where I could better or best be positioned,” Adm. Doran told a group of reporters over breakfast. “Would it be better to move a carrier to Hawaii? Would it be better to move a carrier to Guam? These are major muscle movements. This is not being done on the back of an envelope.”

The admiral said he was in Washington this week to meet with Navy leaders on two high-priority issues: improving the Navy’s ability to track submarines in the Pacific and getting ready to maintain a continuous ship presence in the East Sea/Japan Sea to detect a potential missile launch from North Korea.

Regarding the missile-detection mission, he said, “If asked, we will be ready to do it.” He said it was possible that he could be ordered to do it as soon as Oct. 1, 2004, but no final decision has been made.

On the submarine-tracking mission, Adm. Doran said that when the Cold War ended, the Navy let its anti-submarine warfare capabilities erode, since there no longer was an open-ocean sub threat from the Soviet Union.

But in recent years China, North Korea and other countries have acquired diesel-electric submarines that are so quiet in the water that it is difficult for U.S. forces to detect and track them.

“We have to be able to deal with that,” Adm. Doran said.

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