The U.S. Navy will “lay up” half of the service’s fleet of Ticonderoga-class missile cruisers under the President’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal.
“Half of the Navy’s cruiser fleet— or 11 ships —will be ‘laid up’ and placed in reduced operating status while they are modernized, and eventually returned to service with greater capability and a longer lifespan,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Monday.
“This approach enables us over the long-term to sustain and modernize our fleet of cruisers.”
According to a senior defense official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, the cruisers are among a group of several older ships which the service had originally wanted to retire.
However, because Congress denied the Navy permission to retire the vessels, the Pentagon is pursuing laying up and modernizing the Aegis cruisers as an alternative.
Under the proposal, the cruisers would be modernized, but they would not be manned, which should result in cost savings, the senior defense official said.
Later, Aegis cruisers that remain operating would periodically be switched out with the inactive vessels as needed as those operational ships age or require further modernization.
Meanwhile, the fate of the carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) remains in limbo until fiscal year 2016.
“We will have to make a final decision on the future of the George Washington aircraft carrier in the 2016 budget submission,” Hagel said.
“If sequestration spending levels remain in place in Fiscal Year 2016, she would need to be retired before her scheduled nuclear refueling and overhaul.”
Hagel said that the Navy would have “no choice” but to retire the multi-billion dollar ship less than halfway through her lifespan under those circumstances.
Keeping George Washington in the fleet would cost $6 billion, he said.
But, even if George Washington were to be retired, it would leave the Navy with 10 carrier strike groups, Hagel said.
“At the President’s budget level, we would pay for the overhaul and maintain 11 carriers.”
Reaction from Capitol Hill to the budget preview was swift.
“Cancelling funding for the USS George Washington‘s required overhaul will be equivalent to abandoning a ship for which the taxpayers have already paid, when it still has decades of service life left, placing a further burden on our servicemembers who will have to deploy for up to 10 month in the future,” said Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, in an statement provided to USNI News.
“While Secretary Hagel claimed today that a decision has not been made to reduce the fleet to 10 carriers, all the decisions now being made at the Pentagon appear to lay the groundwork to do just that.”
Meanwhile, the Navy will not buy 52 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) as previously planned. The LCS program will be truncated to a total of 32 ships.
“No new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward,” Hagel said. “I am concerned that the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers.”
While the Navy needs the LCS for anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures, the senior defense official said that the
LCS may not be able to handle the threat from advanced threats in the Western Pacific theatre.
Thus the Pentagon needs to look at a new frigate-sized warship. “I’ve directed the Navy to consider a completely new design, existing ship designs and a modified LCS,” Hagel said. “These proposals are due to me later this year in time to inform next year’s budget.”
The news is not all bad for the Navy. The Navy will continue to procure two new guided missile destroyers and two attack submarines per year as well as an additional Afloat Forward Staging Base, Hagel said.
However, if the Defense Department returns to sequestration level funding after the two-year Bipartisan Budget Act expires in 2016, there will be consequences for the Navy.
Six additional warships would be laid up, Hagel said, and the Navy would have to slow the purchase of new destroyers. The service would lose a total of 10 large surface warships, and purchases of the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter would be suspended for two years.
The complete budget submission is due early in March.