US to maintain 11 carriers, despite cuts

2012-01-22 15:30

PENTAGON budget cuts will not threaten the US aircraft carrier fleet and the Navy plans to keep 11 afloat, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday.

"The carriers play a major role in our force, not only today but they will play an important role in the future. You're part of what keeps our force agile and flexible and quickly deployable and capable on taking on any enemy anywhere in the world," Panetta told about 1 700 sailors.

"It's for that reason that the president of the US and all of us working at the department of defence have decided that it is important to maintain our carrier force at full strength and that means we'll be keeping our 11 carriers in our force," Panetta said to a swell of cheers in one of the ship's hangars.

The Pentagon has to find $487bn in spending cuts in the next decade.

Experts and analysts had speculated in recent weeks over the upkeep costs for aircraft carriers as Panetta will have to deliver a belt-tightening budget in the near future.

He said maintaining the carriers, each of which carry near 80 aircraft and helicopters, was key to US military projection in the Pacific and Mideast, but indicated that the navy would face some cost-cutting.

"We have to look at every area," Panetta said.

The USS Enterprise, cruising off Georgia, is supposed to be taken out of service at year end after 51 years at sea. The navy will have 10 carriers for three years - the time it will take to finish building the USS Gerald Ford.