Plenty of Navy work, but no more ships for Kitsap

Kitsap County will retain its importance as the Navy shifts more forces to the Pacific, but don't expect to get any more ships, its top officer said Monday.

"The number of aircraft and ships will be the same or a little bigger, but we have to have the support to sustain them," Adm. Jonathan Greenert said of Puget Sound bases. "I think there's a bright future up here."

The Chief of Naval Operations visited the Puget Sound area for briefings at Navy installations and Seafair activities. After an all-hands call at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, he, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell met the press briefly at PSNS Memorial Plaza.

The Navy is "rebalancing" its resources to respond to a changing world, going from a 50-50 split between the Pacific and Atlantic fleets to 60 percent in the Pacific by 2020. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated in June that six aircraft carriers and a majority of cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines will be in the Pacific.

Local Navy support group Puget Sound Naval Bases Association suggested to Navy and Congressional leaders the logic of adding a second aircraft carrier at Bremerton. The carrier based in Everett would move to Bremerton, thus opening space for more destroyers at Everett. Recent completion of a pier would allow Bremerton to accommodate two carriers.

"That's not the plan right now," said Greenert, who relieved Adm. Gary Roughead as CNO in September. "It's very good to have that kind of capacity here, but I think we like the balance as it is right now."

Though Kitsap isn't likely to add ships, neither should it lose any to permanent overseas deployment, another trend, Greenert said. The Navy, for example, announced in February that four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers will be forward deployed to Rota, Spain. They're moving from the East Coast. Up to four littoral combat ships will start operating from Singapore, Panetta confirmed in April.

Though the number of ships isn't expected to increase, more workers might be needed to keep them maintained and modernized, Greenert said.

"The bottom line, it's people that make this work," he said. … You've got to have the industrial capacity like you do. That will be the key to the rebalancing."

As the Navy rebalances, or unbalances, toward the Pacific, it will continue to provide a large workload for Kitsap.

"I'm proud to have worked on these issues throughout my career, to make this the superior nuclear repair facility on the West Coast," Dicks said of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

"It's clear the Navy's going to have a lot of work for us to do in the future," Cantwell said. "We want to do it well, on time and in a cost-effective fashion."

Ship numbers will remain stable throughout Navy Region Northwest. Though new ships are coming to Everett — two new destroyers and another changing homeports — they are replacing three frigates.