Nuclear-powered Carrier to Replace Kitty Hawk

Statement by Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer
U.S. Ambassador to Japan

October 28, 2005

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Konnichiwa. Late yesterday afternoon, I officially notified the Government of Japan that the United States Navy will be replacing the conventionally powered aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk with a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carrier. The United States believes that a nuclear-powered carrier forward deployed in the Western Pacific will significantly contribute to the peace and stability of Japan, the United States, and the entire region.

In making our decision we took into account the sensitivity of the people of Japan to a nuclear-powered warship. We want to assure all concerned that this carrier can and will be operated safely in Japanese waters. For the past forty years, American nuclear-powered warships have been visiting Japan. After more than 1,200 visits to Japan, and thousands more around the world, there has not been one single incident that caused the release of radioactive material that had an adverse impact on the environment. We are very proud of our safety record and pledge every effort to see that it is continued.

The USS Kitty Hawk has ably served the interests of both our countries, but Kitty Hawk is the oldest ship in our fleet. When it is retired in 2008, it will have been in service 47 years. It is time to bring a more modern carrier to Japan. In talking about this subject with Admiral Mullen, our Chief of Naval Operations, the admiral assures me that the Navy is moving toward an all-nuclear powered carrier force.

Finally, let me say that the United States considered very seriously the requests of former Yokosuka Mayor Sawada and present Mayor Kabaya to have a conventional carrier replace Kitty Hawk. In the end it was not possible to satisfy the mayorsf requests. We ask their understanding and that of their citizens.

The United States is deeply honored and grateful for the friendship shown to our Navy by the citizens of Yokosuka over the years. We will do everything possible to deepen and strengthen that friendship in the months and years ahead.

I have asked Rear Admiral Jamie Kelly, Commander of US Naval Forces Japan to brief you on the Kitty Hawk decision. So I'll turn it over to Admiral Kelly now.

ADMIRAL KELLY: Thanks, Mr. Ambassador, and konnichiwa. The assignment of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier to the US Navy's Forward Deployed Naval Forces demonstrates the US commitment to peace and regional security through strengthened capabilities, as well as the US Government's commitment to the defense of Japan in support of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

The security environment here in the Western Pacific region increasingly requires that the US Navy station the most capable ships forward, working from forward-deployed positions. This posture allows the most rapid response times possible for maritime and joint forces, and brings our most capable ships with the greatest amount of striking power, if necessary, in the timeliest manner to any regional crisis.

A Nimitz-class aircraft carrier provides a credible, independent forward presence and deterrence in peacetime, and a potent, sustainable force in a range of operational situations. Very recently, one of the US Navy's San Diego-based aircraft carriers demonstrated the ability of a Nimitz-class carrier to perform a range of those sustained operations, responding to the tsunami crisis and providing relief in Southeast Asia in only a matter of days of being tasked. Having such a capability forward-deployed to the Western Pacific means that the US Navy is positioned to readily meet critical defense commitments as well as humanitarian assistance requirements.

Having served for the past two years as the commander of the USS Kitty Hawk Strike Group, I can say with absolute conviction - and many of you know me - and first-hand experience also that a Nimitz-class carrier will improve the ability of the US Navy's Seventh Fleet to protect regional security interests of the United States and its allies in the region, and that includes sea lanes of communication throughout both the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are more capable than fossil fuel-powered carriers. Nimitz-class carriers possess superior endurance and sustained speed, and can respond more quickly to any crisis. They possess more modern and capable command-and-control systems and communications capabilities. When on station in a crisis zone, a Nimitz-class carrier can conduct combat operations for twice as long as a fossil fuel-powered carrier due to its increased capacity for aviation fuel and weapons storage.

Nimitz-class carriers are capable of rapid acceleration rates that are considerably greater than a fossil fuel-powered carrier, providing a significant tactical advantage. They also have a greater capacity for survivability and damage control due to their newer design and construction methods. Nimitz-class carriers have 10 percent more flight deck space available, which allows us safer and more efficient flight operations.

The assignment of a Nimitz-class carrier to the US Navy's Forward Deployed Naval Forces is absolutely the right thing to do for the US-Japan alliance, for the defense of Japan, and for the security of this Western Pacific region.

We owe - I personally owe - a great deal of thanks to the people of Japan who support our sailors and their families. Their friendship, hospitality, and many efforts ensure the high readiness of our forward-deployed forces. I promise you all that I look forward to doing my part to continue this wonderful relationship, and I look forward to your questions this morning. Thanks, Mr. Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Admiral. And we'd be glad to answer any questions that you might have.

QUESTION: Bloomberg News. This announcement comes a couple of days after the agreement that the US is going to accept the Japanese proposal for the relocation of Camp Schwab. The timing suggests there was some quid pro quo.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: There wasn't. It really was a matter of coincidence. We had been negotiating on DPRI for some time now, and I'm happy that we were able to conclude the negotiations on DPRI, and I think we're going to make a further announcement on that tomorrow, or on Saturday morning, in Washington. This was a matter that happened when it happened, and the two were really unrelated. The two were very important, and I'm glad that we were able to bring them to a conclusion, but there really wasn't any effort to tie them together.

QUESTION: Taro Karasaki, (International) Herald (Tribune)/Asahi (Shimbun). Ambassador Schieffer, you said that you took into consideration the sensitivity. Could you give a little more detail on what kind of considerations you made in the discussions?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: The consideration was to whether we deploy a nuclear-powered warship or a conventional-powered warship, and I think we went through all of those kind of options, and we tried to examine every one of them, and we came up finally with the determination that the nuclear-powered carrier was the right option. And I just can't emphasize enough how much this has been studied and how much the concerns that were expressed by Mayor Sawada and now Mayor Kabaya have been taken into account, and we've tried to accommodate them, but we couldn't. And at the end of the day, we just decided that the capability that was presented by a Nimitz-class carrier was such that that's what needed to be deployed here in the western Pacific.

QUESTION: Juliana Gittlek from Stars and Stripes. Can you tell us how this will affect the air wing? We understand that the city of Iwakuni was told that the air wing will be moving, at least some of the jets, down to its location in the future.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: The air wing for the carrier will be the same, so there will be no change there. Now with regard to all the other issues that are involved with, basically, the DPRI talks, I think we'll be able to flesh that out more Saturday when the agreement is presented. I don't think this is the time to do that today.

QUESTION: Has an actual decision been made, or is it still being discussed?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, I think that really is for the DPRI talks to resolve, and I'd rather leave it to them to make that announcement.

QUESTION: Toshio Aritake from BNA. How did the Japanese government explain to you regarding the way to clear the basic three non-nuclear principles that the Japanese Constitution still holds?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I'm not sure I really understand what you're asking.

QUESTION: Japan's nuclear three principles hold that this country does not own, produce, or use nuclear arms; and in this regard, allowing US nuclear weapons to Japanese waters ...

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I don't think that this decision really affects that in any way. We're talking about a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, not about nuclear weapons per se, so I don't see any conflict in this decision in existing Japanese law.

QUESTION: Tim Kelly, Forbes. Before you actually station the aircraft carrier, what are you actually going to do in Yokosuka to try and bring the local population around to the fact that they're going to have a nuclear-powered vessel in their port? Do you plan any tours of the facilities or any PR events?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I called Mayor Kabaya this morning to tell him about this decision, and I told him that we stood ready to answer any questions that any of the citizens of Yokosuka might have, any questions that he might have. We think that the more transparent this whole process can be, the easier it will be for people to understand that there is no danger, there is no risk that people are taking in Yokosuka. We're very proud of the record of our Navy. We think it is the best record when it comes to nuclear power that exists anywhere in the world, either militarily or with civilian nuclear programs. So we're happy to tell people about it. And we're happy to respond to concerns of Yokosuka citizens. We want to be good allies, good partners as we have been in the past, and we think that the way you do that is by telling people what your case is, and we think that the truth will be persuasive.

QUESTION: Joel Legendre from RTL Broadcasting from Europe. Do we have the name of the aircraft carrier that would come here?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: We do not. That hasn't been decided, and we'll go through that process here. We'll have an announcement at some time in the future. But I don't really have any timeline for that. I think that the important thing is to let the people of Japan know that we have made a decision to put a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered ship here, and then we'll later on decide which ship that will be.

QUESTION: Could it be the George Bush one?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: [Laughter] I think it would be not terribly helpful to speculate on one or the other. There is a finite number, so it's going to be one of them, but which one, I couldn't tell you.

QUESTION: My name is Sonoyama of the Asahi Newspaper. I am from Yokosuka, so I know well about the local situation. The Navy says there have been no incidents, but we feel - a lot of citizens feel - it is quite dangerous. In spite of that, in the training to prevent disaster, the US Navy hasn't participated well, except the liaison people, so are you going to prepare manuals or other documents, or are you going to consider the maybe participation in the disaster prevention training?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: The premise of your question - that this is a dangerous situation - I just have to differ with. There is no factual evidence that exists that would indicate that a nuclear-powered warship is any more dangerous than any other warship, and I think that we have a record of 50 years of nuclear-powered ships existing in our Navy, and it's a good record, and it's a record that we're very proud of. The other thing that I think we ought to point out is - because we have had so many nuclear-powered ships visiting Japan over the last 40 years, we have a situation where the United States government and the Japanese government have monitored those visits, have looked at the water and the soil samples around those visits, and have not come up with anything that would show any level of danger to the citizens of Japan.

I'd also like to point out that not only hundreds of thousands, but millions of Americans have lived in close proximity to nuclear-powered warships, and nuclear-powered carriers specifically. In Norfolk, for instance, I think you have five nuclear-powered carriers based there. In San Diego, you have two, and frequently you'll have three with another nuclear carrier visiting there. These are all in areas that are heavily populated, and over this long period of time, there has never been an incident that has proved dangerous to civilians, and there is no reason to believe that Japan would present any different challenge than we've had in our own American ports.

And let me add one other thing: that we're happy to listen to the people of Yokosuka and to talk about whatever concerns they might have and consider whatever requests they might make with regard to how we can reassure their citizens that this is a safe undertaking.

QUESTION: Satoru Suzuki with TV-Asahi. Did you, Mr. Ambassador, talk to Mr. Koizumi specifically about this issue?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: No, I have not talked specifically to the prime minister. I talked to the foreign minister yesterday. I gave the notification to him.

QUESTION: So, you didn't get the consent of the prime minister yet?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, I haven't talked to him about it.

QUESTION: Are you going to?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I hadn't specifically thought about talking to the prime minister, but I talked to the foreign minister yesterday. My understanding is that there was a cabinet meeting this morning, and then Foreign Minister Machimura had a news conference and made the announcement early this morning.

QUESTION: I have one more question. There is the John F. Kennedy, as a conventional carrier. When is it going to be decommissioned? If it is going to be decommissioned, there will only be nuclear-powered carriers, so Yokosuka cannot say or request something that doesn't exist.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: [inaudible] with Admiral Mullen, our Chief of Naval Operations. He indicated to me that he believed that the Navy was moving toward an all-nuclear carrier force.

QUESTION: Juliana Gittlek from Stars and Stripes. Will there be any opportunities for Japanese civilian authorities or agencies to come in and monitor, the way that they would monitor a nuclear reactor on land? Will there be opportunities for someone to come in and look, to make sure it is safe for people, to reassure people?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: We currently have a joint program that monitors this, and I would expect that that would continue, so I don't think that there's going to be anything different here than we have practiced in the past. So I would anticipate it would continue in the future.

QUESTION: Do you know under whose authority, on the Japanese side, that falls?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I don't know. Admiral, do you know? [inaudible] ... Kevin, why don't you take the mike? This is Kevin Maher.

MR. MAHER: The current monitoring program for the many visits of nuclear-powered submarines that come to Japan - the monitoring is done on the Japanese side by MEXT, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. The reason for that is that they have the responsibility within the Japanese system for the non-commercial nuclear activities in Japan, in terms of safety. So they do the water sampling, for example, for the nuclear-powered submarines that visit, and would continue to do that for all nuclear-powered warships.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

QUESTION: I'm going to ask a question in Japanese, from Kanagawa Shimbun. I have two questions. You mentioned that there have been no incidents in the past 50 years, but are you saying there is no possibility whatsoever that there would be any incidents in the future, as well? In addition, my question is: Mr. Kabaya and other mayors and residents of Yokosuka always wanted a conventional carrier, and your intention is to persuade them? Or your intention is to go ahead with your plan in 2008 - there will be a nuclear-powered carrier in spite of their opposition?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: First of all, we live in an imperfect world, and I don't think anybody can guarantee that it will be a perfect world, but we can cite the record that we have had over these last many years, and I think that record should give people confidence that this ship will be operated safely in the future, as it has been operated in the past - as have all of the ships that are nuclear-powered. So I think people can take some comfort from that. With regard to the local citizenry, we are going to do everything we can to win them over and to resolve any doubts that they might have about it. We want people to understand what we're doing, because we think that when they understand it, that they will agree that this was the best decision that could be made.

QUESTION: Joe Coleman with AP. Could you give us some details about what some of the alternatives were that were eventually discarded?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, I think whether you could extend the Kitty Hawk was a big question - whether you could do something with another conventionally powered aircraft carrier. And I think we went through all of those options, considered them very seriously and came up with two results. The first was capability: what is the capability of a nuclear-powered ship versus a conventionally powered ship? And as I think the admiral pointed out, there's a great deal more capability with a Nimitz-class carrier than with some other conventionally powered carrier. So that was concern number one. And the second was just the life of these ships. I don't want to trivialize what we're doing here, but this is a situation that is analogous to changing from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft. You could continue to use propeller-driven aircraft, but I don't think they would have the capability that the jet aircraft would. It's the same situation here. This is a carrier that has tremendous capability. It can get someplace faster; it can get back to Japan faster if it's needed here; it can provide relief as a nuclear-powered carrier did in the tsunami disaster, because it can get there faster, and yet not be so far from the theater if it's needed back to do that. So capacity and capability are things that we thought about, and when you analyze it, the Nimitz-class carrier just wins out.

QUESTION: Tim Kelly, Forbes. Just to follow up on my previous question, when you called up the mayor earlier this morning, what was his reaction to the news?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: He said he regretted that it was a nuclear-powered carrier, but he appreciated me calling, and that he looked forward to talking to me when I got back. I'm actually going to Washington later this afternoon for the 2+2 that will be held on Saturday. So I look forward to coming back and visiting with him, and again, answering any questions that he might have.

I'd also like to mention too, that the governor of Kanagawa was also notified by the Government of Japan, and Admiral Roughhead, our commander of the Pacific Fleet, talked to him. By chance, they happened to be in Annapolis at the same time in the United States, and they had a good conversation. I think he basically expressed the same thing to Admiral Roughhead, and that is that he regretted that it was not going to be a conventional carrier, but that he appreciated the call and looked forward to working with him as well.

QUESTION: Khaldon Azhari, Petra News Agency. Mr. Ambassador, some Japanese media reports are increasingly suggesting that Japan might withdraw some of its forces from Iraq. So I would like to ask, what is the United States look at this possibility, in terms that many media reports also in Japan suggested that Mr. Koizumi has sent his troops to Iraq to show how strong the alliance is between Japan and the United States. I mean, is the United States prepared to see Japan withdrawing some of its forces from Iraq? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I think Japan ultimately will decide whether it's going to continue the deployment in Iraq. What we would say is that we are very appreciative of that deployment. We think that it has worked very well. It has contributed to the effectiveness of overall coalition forces. And how long it will last or how long it will continue is a matter for the Japanese, Americans, British, Australians that are all involved in it to talk about. But we hope that the day will come when all of us can go home, but what the timing of that is, is dependent upon the situation in Iraq. And I think Japan has been a wonderful partner, and they have expressed to us a continuing belief that a successful, democratic Iraq can transform the Middle East and be a tremendous force for good in the world, and I think that they continue to hold that view and are willing participants in trying to bring that about.

QUESTION: Satoru Suzuki with TV-Asahi. Mr. Ambassador, if I may ask you about the Futenma relocation plan. Now to implement the plan, in a timely and comprehensive manner and fully, we need to convince the government and the people of Okinawa to accept it. This may be for the Japanese government to do, but from your viewpoint, why the new base will have to be in Okinawa?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't think it will be a new base. I think what we'll do is we'll transfer some functions from one place to the other. But I don't want to go into the specific details of the DPRI negotiations, because I think that they are multifaceted, and we have to look at the whole package that we'll be talking about on Saturday, not just one part of it. Having said that, both the United States and Japan expressed a desire to turn Futenma back to Japan. And I think that the agreement that you're going to see is a comprehensive agreement that can accomplish that common goal. I think that both governments expressed a desire to reduce the number of troops that are stationed in Okinawa and in Japan, and I think you're going to see an agreement that reduces, in numbers. And I think both governments expressed a desire to change the footprint in Japan, to try to reduce some of the difficulties ?the challenges that occur when you're in very urbanized areas like you are in Futenma. And I think that the package will accomplish that. And I would hope that the people of Okinawa and Japan will look at this as a total package, one that doesn't accomplish all of the goals that either of us sought in the beginning of the negotiation, but one that we both decided was in our best interests. And in particular regard to the Futenma issue, I think we need to understand that the government of Japan put forward a proposal that they felt would solve this situation, not one that would create a mirage solution - one that was always out there and never resolved anything - but one that would get the facility enhanced and capable of doing what we both want it to do. So I look forward to talking about that more on Saturday, but I think it's a good agreement. I think it's one that people can support and can believe accomplishes the goal of reduced numbers, reduced footprint, without reducing capability.

QUESTION: Hiroshi Hiyama from Agence France-Presse. Just a follow-up question to the one that you had just addressed on reducing numbers of troops on Okinawa. I was just wondering, how is it possible to reduce the number of soldiers, or of troops in Okinawa, while keeping the presence or the capability?

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: Well, you have to work at it. And you have to think about it, and you have to look at what the purpose of them being there is, and what their function is, and how they're going to perform it. But I think that we've done that, and I think we are going to be able to announce something that will be welcomed by the people of Japan, the people of Okinawa, and I think it's going to work. And I think that was at the heart of these negotiations at the very beginning, and I'm happy to say that I think that these negotiations have borne fruit and that we're going to have an agreement that everyone can live with. And not only live with, but that will transform this alliance and prepare it for the challenges of the 21st century.

QUESTION: If I may, a follow-up to that one. Is that because of the changing nature of the threats we have, or is it that the new technology allows for a reduction of the troops? Are we to expect more major changes ...

AMBASSADOR SCHIEFFER: I think it's a combination of all of the above. When we begin this process, we talk about DPRI in Japan. But what it is, is a part of a larger transformation that we're trying to make happen around the world. If you think about where American forces are deployed today, it's largely because that's where the war ended, where World War II ended. What we are trying to do, and what Secretary Rumsfeld said at the very beginning, is that we want to be sure that those forces can meet the threats that exist in the 21st century, not the threats that existed in the 20th century. And so what we have had here is a negotiation to try to bring that about. And the deployment will look different here in Japan, but it will look different all around the world, because we're trying to prepare for the next threat, not past threats.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. If you have further questions, don't hesitate to contact the Embassy press office. We'll try to provide as many details as we can.