HONOLULU - Four Navy bases in California, Hawaii, Guam, and Washington state are in the running to become the new homeport of the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that is currently undergoing a three-year-long refueling overhaul, the head of the Navy said Monday.
Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter told reporters he would decide by April or May whether to base the Vinson at San Diego, Pearl Harbor, Guam or Bremerton, Wash.
The ship would be ready to move to its new home once its nuclear fuel is replenished in 2009, Winter said at a media round-table in Honolulu.
Winter said he would consider each base's strategic location, the cost of infrastructure upgrades required to accommodate a carrier, and proximity to an airfield when making his decision. Training opportunities for the carrier's 5,000 sailors would also be a key factor, he said.
"We have to weigh all of these issues very carefully and consider what makes the best sense for the United States," Winter said. "There's a lot of trade-offs there. We'll just have to see how it all comes down."
The Navy currently has five aircraft carriers in the Pacific: two in Bremerton, two in San Diego and one at a U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan.
Navy leaders have said they were considering moving an aircraft carrier to either Hawaii or Guam to help them more rapidly respond to potential threats in the Asia-Pacific region.
But the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review report, issued in February, didn't mention the possibility as some observers had expected. It only referred to a plan to keep six carriers in the Pacific.
Guam, a U.S. territory a few hours by plane from East Asia, would require more substantial infrastructure upgrades than any of the other three candidates.
Moreover, Winter said the military's plans to move 8,000 Marines to Guam from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa added to the complications of moving an aircraft carrier to Guam.
On the other hand, Guam is closer to areas military leaders would most likely want to have the USS Carl Vinson patrol.
Hawaii, meanwhile, is closer to Asia than the West Coast and has a more highly developed network of roads, schools and other infrastructure than Guam.
But Hawaii suffers from high housing costs and limited land area. Military personnel also frequently complain about the poor quality of island schools.
Guam's business community has actively campaigned to host an aircraft carrier.
Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a ranking member on the Defense Appropriations Committee, has lobbied for his home state of Hawaii to be selected.Separately, Winter confirmed the Navy would base the USS Hawaii, its newest nuclear-powered submarine, at Pearl Harbor. The ship, which was christened in June, will likely be ready to move to its namesake state in 2009, Winter said.