NORFOLK, Va. -- The USS Abraham Lincoln arrived at its new homeport in Virginia on Tuesday, where the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will stay for at least the next four years as it undergoes a major overhaul to double its lifespan to about 50 years.
The Lincoln's arrival means Virginia will temporarily be home to six of the Navy's 11 aircraft carriers, which are considered the crown jewel of the modern fleet and whose thousands of sailors are considered a significant boost to the local economy. The Lincoln has a crew of roughly 2,800 sailors and many of their families began relocating to the area earlier this summer.
However, the number of Virginia-based carriers will drop back down to five when the Norfolk-based USS Enterprise is deactivated after it completes its final deployment this fall. The Navy has not said where the next aircraft carrier it is building, USS Gerald R. Ford, will be based when it is delivered in 2015. That ship will be the Enterprise's numerical replacement.
It's also unclear whether the Lincoln will return to its original homeport of Everett, Wash., which it left in December, once the refueling complex overhaul is completed in nearby Newport News, where the Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are built.
"We've always been a West Coast carrier since we left Norfolk in 1989," said Capt. John Alexander, the Lincoln's commanding officer. "I don't know if that'll have a play or not. It hasn't been determined where she'll go, so we'll just have to wait and see what the global force distribution will be after that."
Traditionally, the Navy has stationed five carriers on the East Coast and five on the West Coast. Another aircraft carrier is permanently deployed to a base in Japan. That makeup could change as the Navy rebalances its forces to send more ships to the Pacific to counter an emerging China.
The Navy also still has plans to eventually homeport an aircraft carrier in the Jacksonville, Fla. area, although it is unclear when that might occur because that base needs to be upgraded before it can serve a nuclear-powered carrier. Virginia's Congressional delegation has fought funding for those upgrades.
As part of the overhaul, the Lincoln's nuclear reactors will be refueled, the ship's combat and communication systems will be upgraded, and the hull, mechanical and electrical systems will be overhauled.
Alexander said the work won't be `high drama', but it will be demanding and important. About 2.8 million work hours will be required.
"It's just like any other mission," he said. "When we're asked to do combat, we do combat. When we're asked to do security cooperation, we do that. When we're asked to refit ships, we do that."