White House Pushing Against Proposed Pentagon Carrier Cut

January 30, 2014 4:00 PM
USS George Washington (CVN-73) on Dec. 2, 2013. Washington was likely to be decommissioned as part of a Pentagon plan to reduce the carrier force. The move was stopped this week after the White House told the Pentagon to look for cuts elsewhere. US Navy Photo
USS George Washington (CVN-73) on Dec. 2, 2013. A proposed reduction in the US carrier fleet was stalled this week after the White House told the Pentagon to look for cuts elsewhere. US Navy Photo

The White House is pushing back against a Pentagon plan to cut a carrier as part of its Fiscal Year 2015 budget, several sources confirmed to USNI News.
An Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) proposal to decommission a nuclear carrier that would reduce the U.S. total from 11 carriers to ten has met further resistance by the White House following a legislative outcry.

According to sources familiar with the back and forth, administration officials asked the Pentagon on Wednesday evening to leave carriers alone and look for savings in other parts of the Defense budget.

Last week, House members penned a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel urging the Pentagon to keep the carrier force at 11.

Congressmen including outgoing House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) and sea-power subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) signed the letter. Other signatories include Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.).

“There is no doubt that there is enduring bipartisan support for a robust Navy supporting a capital fleet of 11 nuclear aircraft carriers,” read the letter.

The pressure to preserve the carrier has also come in part from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) who faces a 2014 reelection bid which would be hurt by a cut in the carrier base, sources told USNI News.

The Navy did not elaborate on the ongoing discussions between the White House and OSD to USNI News.

“There is no question that we continue to face tough decisions in this fiscal environment,” Navy spokesman Capt. Dawn Cutler said in a statement provided to USNI News on Thursday afternoon.
“Work continues on the FY15 budget and, at this point, conversations on our budget submission are both premature and pre-decisional.”

The nation’s only carrier builder is Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. The yard employs thousands of workers currently constructing the new Ford-class carriers, refueling USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and disassembling USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

Under a potential OSD carrier cut — first reported by Defense News — the Pentagon would decommission a Nimitz-class nuclear carrier well ahead of its 50-year service life during the window of the ship’s scheduled mid-life refueling.

With the decommissioning of the ship — likely USS George Washington (CVN-73) — the Navy could also shed a carrier air wing — though it is still unclear how the air arms would be reduced if a carrier were to leave the fleet.

The carrier fleet is temporarily at ten following the start of the Enterprise’s deactivation and the commissioning of Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)

This is not the first time the Pentagon and the White House have clashed over carriers.

In 2011 the Pentagon floated a plan to decommission a carrier. When presented with the plan the administration directed OSD to keep carrier levels at 11.

Carriers are among the most in demand naval assets for the U.S. combatant commanders around the world. The multi-billion dollar ships are also among the most expensive assets to man and maintain in the entire U.S. military inventory with manpower costs in the hundreds of millions.

Decommissioning a nuclear carrier is still an expensive proposition. Removing the reactors and scrapping Enterprise will cost more than $850 million.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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