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HASC Bill Would Speed Up Cruiser Modernization Plan, But Not All Members Agree

USS Antietam (CG-54) is underway off the coast of Japan near Mt. Fuji. US Navy Photo

USS Antietam (CG-54) is underway off the coast of Japan near Mt. Fuji. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s cruiser modernization effort will once again be a hot topic of debate, as some House Armed Services Committee (HASC) members push for a tighter timeline for the maintenance and combat system upgrades.

The Navy’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2016 complies with last year’s congressional compromise – rather than set aside 11 of the 22 cruisers and upgrade them just in time to replace the remaining 11 cruisers as they retire next decade, the Navy would begin modernizing them now. Two ships a year would go into maintenance, for a shipyard availability of no more than four years, with no more than six ships in maintenance at any given time –the so-called 2/4/6 plan.

But even as the Navy is still advocating its previous plan, some HASC members are pushing in the opposite direction, demanding that the Navy complete the modernization work in two years instead of four.

According to the seapower and projection forces subcommittee’s section of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, the Navy would have two years to get the ships in and out of the yard, and an extra six months if the Navy secretary files for an extension.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) told USNI News today that he asked the Navy how long the cruiser modernization shipyard availability should take, and officials told him 18 months. Forbes argues the 2/2/6 plan still allows an additional year to complete the work if problems arise.

Subcommittee staff, however, told reporters Wednesday that, even though the work can be done in two years instead of four, it comes at a higher cost.

The four-year plan would allow the Navy to do the hull, mechanical and electrical work and the combat system upgrades piecemeal, fitting the work into valleys in the shipyards’ overall workload. Under the two-year plan, the HM&E and combat system work would have to happen concurrently, and it would have to happen on a strict timeline regardless of what else the shipyards had planned.

The four-year plan would have allowed the Navy to dip to a minimal crew size – 46, the staffers said – in the middle of the work period, lowering personnel costs for a time. Under a two-year plan, there is not enough downtime to reduce the crew size, so the Navy would lose out on those expected costs savings.

And, of course, under the two-year plan the Navy would have to purchase combat systems and other materials sooner, creating more of a budget crunch in the short-term. The Ship Modernization, Operation and Sustainment Fund (SMOSF) – a bank account of sorts created in FY 2013 to prevent the Navy from retiring seven cruisers rather than modernizing them – currently has about $2 billion set aside for the work and would run out in mid-FY 2019 under the 2/4/6 plan. The subcommittee staffers said SMOSF would expire a year earlier under the 2/2/6 plan.

The staffers would not characterize the maintenance itself as more expensive under 2/2/6, since the material and the manhours to complete the work would be the same. But they said the two-year plan results in “savings the Navy is unable to realize” that they would have under a four-year modernization schedule – and therefore the two-year plan spends SMOSF faster, reduces the potential to save money and expends the ships’ service life faster by putting them back out into the fleet the fastest of all the plans being discussed.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) told reporters after the subcommittee markup today that the 2/2/6 plan’s inclusion in the subcommittee language does not mean all subcommittee members agree with it. Typically, the subcommittee members and their staffs spend so much time on the language that what is voted on to the full committee has virtually unanimous support – any further disagreements are settled in the full committee markup or during House floor debate. In this case, Courtney said, HASC is running about two weeks ahead of schedule and there was not enough time for members to settle on a cruiser modernization plan they could all agree on.

“I have concerns, so I think we’ll give you some suspense,” he said, declining to elaborate on his concerns but saying there would be a fuller debate on the topic during the April 29 full committee markup.

Forbes, on the other hand, discounted the cost and service life issues. On cost, he said a more important question to ask is, “what’s the cost to the country if we need cruisers out there and we don’t have those cruisers?” On the issue of service life – one of the key arguments the Navy has made for keeping to its plan to postpone modernization on the 11 cruisers until the older ones retire – Forbes said, “make no bones about it, the Navy has never joked that this was about the service life of these vessels; its’ always been about budgets and cutting them.”

He added that if the Navy had serious concerns about expending service life too soon, “we don’t mind buying additional time” and slowing down the maintenance work if the Navy can prove it will follow through with its requirement to modernize the cruisers and return them to the fleet.

Forbes still has questions for the Navy on the issue, since the Navy’s original intention was to “euthanize them, not modernize them,” he said. Regarding the previous plan for eventual phased modernization, “if they want to come back and show us where they’d put money in to make sure [the modernization is] going to actually be done and give us some certainty,” he would be willing to consider a slower work plan. But absent some guarantees, Forbes wants the ships into maintenance and back into the fleet as quickly as possible.

Also in the defense bill, the subcommittee restores funding for destroyer modernization that had been cut due to tight budgets. The Navy decided earlier this year to cancel ballistic missile defense upgrades for five destroyers over five years. The subcommittee staffers said that decision creates a “capability deficit” their bill addresses, but they could not comment yet on the exact number of destroyer modernizations it would restore, pending full committee decisions.

  • Tony

    I believe that scrapping the SRA plan and returning to ROHs would be more predictable and less disruptive to operational schedules.

    • SHipNerd

      ROH? What are those? Thanks.

      • Secundius

        @ SHipNerd.

        I’m going to take a “Wild Guess” of Refueling and Over-Hauled. 11 Cruisers, are currently being Refitted and Upgraded…

  • Secundius

    Well I know the US Navy, plans to reduce the Tico’s crew size by 48 manning (4 officers and 44 ratings) and remove their Boilers and replace them with an All-Eectric Drive Propulsion System and possibly install a Carbon Capture and Storage Fuel System aboard to extend it’s range…

  • Marjus Plaku

    Navy desperately needs new Cruisers to take advantage of the computing power, sensors and radar sets available today in a large, stand alone platforms able to lead surface groups, escort carriers, or conduct independent operations. The focus on AAW is so complex and vast today that a separate, high end capability ship with a dedicated air staff like the one Cruisers provide is necessary.

    • Secundius

      @ Marjus Plaku.

      Unfortunately the Next Great Cruiser Build Off, isn’t scheduled until ~2035…

      • Marjus Plaku

        I know, it’s all very depressing. What with only three Zumwalt ships and a bleak possibility of nuclear surface ships.

        • Secundius

          @ Marjus Plaku.

          Maybe we’ll get lucky, and someone will Tom Clancy the Capitol. Hopefully during the day time and when their actually there…

          • old guy

            OPTIMIST

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            Sorry if I Spoke Out of Turn. And never mind about the Crusader question. I found it…

  • http://www.kcharlesbadoian/ Ken Badoian

    Slow down the new carriers and focus on the cruisers. Better delay the carrier, Kennedy (?) than leaving the fleet w/o full air cover. The surface battle fleet, no way you count the ships, is too small to, in some areas, contest and control sea space. Find more yards to do the work. Need a larger ship repair industrial base.

    • Curtis Conway

      Light Carriers, Jeep Carriers, Expeditionary Strike Groups with F-35Bs.

    • Secundius

      @ Ken Badoian.

      According to Today’s copy of Breaking Defense, the Navy tried and failed to convince the Congressional House Arms Services Oversight Committee, to slow down the Modernization Program of the Cruisers. To keep more of them in the Operation Fleet, the House said NO 38 to 24. And keep the Modernization Schedule Program on track, with 11 In and 11 Out…

  • old guy

    RADICAL THOUGHT. Let’s ditch ALL the old nomenclature which is inhibiting true modernization and come up with a new way of designating ships so that the sum total of our fleet meets the sum total of our requirements,

    • Curtis Conway

      The US Navy is a Traditional Service in a demanding environment that is very unforgiving. Not like standing on terrafirma.

      We have folks who have tried to tell us the ESCORT mission is no longer, then this incident happens in the Strait of Hormuz. This is a Frigate Escort mission, and we are using some DDG-51s and a Cruiser to accomplish it. Yes we have some PCs and a MCM there too. This is a perfect mission for an FFG-7 that still has a Mk13. THAT is what we need today, and the LCS ain’t it.

      Presence and policing in the South China Sea is another mission perfect for the FFG-7 class. It’s a shame we don’t have any.

    • Secundius

      @ old guy.

      Don’t tell Congress that, they don’t like change…

      • old guy

        They may be bad, but we are not so progressive either, wot? Don’t we still ‘SET SAIL, PAY THE DEVIL, have a FOC”SL (forecastle), have a STARBOARD (steering board), A CAPTAIN’S MAST (do they really climb all the way up there?) and lot’s more? HA, HA, HA.

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  • Secundius

    How does Laying Up HALF of your Cruiser Fleet for the Next 4-years, SPEED THINGS UP…

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