01 April 1998


Pentagon Spokesman Ken Bacon briefed.



Q: Can I ask you about another GAO report? There's a draft report
that's circulating that suggests that the cost of buying, overhauling,
maintaining and operating nuclear aircraft carriers is gravely in
excess of what it costs for a conventional carrier, but, as we found
in this recent deployment, both seem to work equally well when it's
time to use them. Can you comment on whether the Department is at all
considering whether they should use conventionally fueled carriers in
the future?

A: First if all, this argument -- conventional versus nuclear carriers
-- is one of the oldest arguments, one of the oldest themes of GAO
reports in the history of the U.S. military, probably. I'll bet David
Martin, who's been around here some time, can remember five or eight
times in the last 20 years when this issue has been raised by somebody
in Congress or outside of Congress. I won't force him to count the
number of times. But it is an old chestnut. But just because an
argument is an old chestnut, doesn't mean it's not worthy of more

Clearly the analysis depends on a number of variables such as the
price of oil which changes over time. But let me just say several
things about this particular report. The Navy is convinced that
nuclear carriers make more sense than conventional carriers. One of
the reasons it's convinced is that nuclear carriers are more flexible,
they can steam for longer periods of time without support, they can
carry 50 percent more supplies such as ammunition, food, etc., so they
have much greater independent sustainability than conventionally
powered carriers do.

In a world where we provide the worldwide military presence, and where
our ability to use ports is not always certain, I think the Navy feels
that's a very valuable margin of enhanced performance.

Having said that, Secretary Dalton did say on the Hill recently, I
think last week, that the Navy, of course, will once again study the
comparative economic merits between nuclear and conventionally powered
carriers. So one of the reasons that this is an old chestnut issue is
that it always lends itself to restudy, and it will be restudied
again. I think every time there's a new class of carriers on the
drawing board or contemplated being on the drawing board, people raise
this question as to whether it's appropriate to continue building
nuclear versus conventionally powered carriers.

Q: The price difference that was cited of over $9 billion over the 50
year life of a carrier, is that about what your estimates are? Does
that overstate...

A: No, that overstates the case, and I can't tell you exactly what the
Navy's estimates are. I'm sure they'd be able to give you clear
estimates on that. But the Navy insists that the margin is much
different. But the question is, what do you want to pay for improved
maneuverability? What do you want to pay for improved combat power?
What do you want to pay for improved sustainability? I think the Navy
has made the decision that paying more for nuclear carriers pays off
in terms of enhanced battle effectiveness.


(end transcript)