This post has been updated to include a statement from Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.).
The U.S. Navy’s chief shipbuilder told Congress the service plans to reshuffle $7 billion in funds to refuel and maintain the nuclear aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). The fate of the carrier was an open question at the start of the year due to ongoing military funding pressures.
“We are today making every effort to replan near $7 billion required across the [Future Years Defense Plan] to refuel the carrier plus maintain its airwing, manpower and support,” Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA), told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces in a Thursday hearing.
“We’ve released the balance of advance procurement funding for 2014 to continue planning efforts in order to best maintain our options and retain skilled labor at the shipyard while we await determination by Congress regarding sequestration in 2016. Yet, this also increases the pressure on other programs.”
The move from the Navy follows three congressional committee marks that include funds for procurement of advanced materials for the refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) for George Washington inserted into the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget after the service had not included the funds itself.
The Defense Department, while expressing a desire to keep the carrier, was adamant that starting the more than $4 billion RCOH in FY 2016 was contingent on Congress lifting the sequestration funding restrictions born from the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in February that unless sequestration was lifted, George Washington and its air wing would be removed from the active fleet.
“The Navy has reversed a potentially disastrous decision that, according to the Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, would have seriously compromised U.S. security interests,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said in a Thursday statement provided to USNI News.
“It is simply delusional to believe that the United States can remain the world’s dominant naval power while simultaneously dismantling the principal instrument of that power, the aircraft carrier.”
Stackley said since Hagel’s February announcement there were enough positive signs from Congress to allow the Navy to go ahead with the RCOH plan as part of its FY 2016 budget — currently being prepared by the service.
“The signal today is strong enough that says we need to go ahead and proceed to the next step of releasing funding and go into the negotiations with the ship yard to start the planning effort per the refueling portion of a complex overhaul,” Stackley told USNI News following the Thursday hearing.
“We’re in the middle of the 2016 budget bill today and we’re in the process of building a budget that anticipates Congress’ action that will support a change to BCA and sequestration. We’re moving out in anticipation of a future congressional action because we can’t wait until a year from now to build that budget.
The Pentagon’s threat not to refuel the carrier was the highest profile bullet point in the ongoing struggle between Congress and the Defense Department over military funding.
The Navy included $243 million in FY 2014 for advanced procurement for the RCOH. Ahead of the most recent FY 2015 budget submission, the service planned to include $796 million for long-lead items.
The long-lead money was also included in a draft version of the Navy’s unfunded requirements request but was taken out of the final submission to Congress.
Representatives from Huntington Ingalls Industries, the company the contractor for the four year RCOH, was cautiously optimistic following Stackley’s comments.
“While we are pleased to see positive momentum toward funding the RCOH, however this is a complex process that we will continue to monitor,” according to a HII statement provided to USNI News.