AUSTERITY

Military mulls whether to dock navy's only aircraft carrier

Decision to withdraw vessel permanently can only be taken "at the highest political level"

The budget ax also appears to be swinging high within the military. To save money, officials are studying whether to dock the navy's only aircraft carrier, the Príncipe de Asturias, as well as two of its six F-80 frigates.

Technically, these vessels will be on "restrictive standby" waiting to see whether they can be redeployed in the future, where it is possible to do so.

But experts believe this is the first step toward their eventual and permanent withdrawal from service.

There are three reasons why it is expected that the Príncipe de Asturias and the two frigates, if they are docked for monetary reasons now, will perhaps never be redeployed. First, a boost to the military's budget is not expected in the short or medium term. Secondly, vessels deteriorate very rapidly if they are not used. And finally, such battleships would need a lot expensive up-keep because of their age.

The Príncipe de Asturias was put into service in 1988. In six years, it will be three decades old -- the usual maximum period for an active warship.

However, military sources say the decision to retire the aircraft carrier will be made "at the highest political level" due to the symbolic name of the vessel. The heir to the Spanish throne, Prince Felipe, is the bearer of the title Prince of Asturias.

The two frigates were put in service in 1984 and 1993.

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