Navy Suspends 38-Year-Old Kennedy Aircraft Carrier

The Navy suspended flight operations Friday on the USS John F. Kennedy, upsetting Florida lawmakers in Congress who want to keep the aircraft carrier based in the state.

The Navy has been trying to scuttle the 38-year-old carrier for about a year, but Congress passed a bill in December saying the Navy should continue to maintain and operate all of its 12 carriers.

U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw said he was told by Navy Secretary Donald Winter that the carrier was being taken out of operation because faulty equipment could endanger pilots attempting to land on it.

"I greeted that information with surprise and skepticism in terms of the timing," said Crenshaw, whose district includes the carrier's base at Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville.

Florida's two U.S. senators also weighed in.

"We need to repair the JFK as soon as possible, so we're not reducing our carrier fleet from 12 to 11 in a time of war," Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement.

In the meantime, Nelson said another carrier should be moved from Norfolk, Va., to Mayport "so all our other carriers aren't sitting ducks in one port."

Sen. Mel Martinez called for the Navy to hasten conversion of Mayport so that it could support a nuclear-powered carrier. The Kennedy is one of only two U.S. carriers that run on conventional power.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the results of a defense study released last month persuaded him to introduced legislation Thursday that would repeal the Congressional mandate of 12 carriers.

The four-year defense strategy study said the Navy only needed 11 carriers. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, also called for taking the Kennedy out of the fleet.