Defense Bill Punts on Navy Plan to Mothball Cruisers, Adds Money for 12th LPD, Growlers

December 2, 2014 4:58 PM - Updated: December 3, 2014 11:50 AM
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

This post has been updated to amend the amount the compromise 2015 NDAA included for EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. House and Senate staffers yesterday said the amount was $350 million. The final number for the aircraft in the bill reported out Wednesday morning was $450 million.

The compromise 2015 defense bill between the House and the Senate will allow the Navy to move ahead with putting two Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers in mothballs but stops short of endorsing the service’s plan to layup half of the cruiser force, according to a Tuesday background briefing to reporters from House and Senate staffers.

Language in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will allow the Navy to start the preservation and modernization process for two of the ships next year — in line with the early part of the Navy’s plan — but gives Congress flexibility to alter the deal.

“They can stand down two this year but [the bill] doesn’t address what they do in future years,” a legislative staffer told reporters.

The Navy included the so-called phased cruiser modernization plan in its FY 2015 budget proposal that would mothball 11 cruisers to reduce the crew sizes and cut maintenance costs. The service estimated the plan would result in a cost savings of $4.7 billion.

The Navy has argued that it needed the air defense commander capability inherent in the cruisers and that’s not native to the service’s Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.

“We need an air defense commander with deploying battle groups,” 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 July hearing.

“11 carriers, 11 carrier battle groups, 11 air defense commanders.”

The Navy landed on the phased modernization plan after the looming costs of the Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) program made a Flight IV Arleigh Burke destroyer — that would have included space for an air defense commander — fiscally impossible.

An EA-18G Growler from the Shadowhawks of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 on Oct. 10, 2013 US Navy Photo
An EA-18G Growler from the Shadowhawks of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 on Oct. 10, 2013 US Navy Photo

The bill also sets aside about $450 million for additional EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft — enough money for about 4 or so aircraft. The Navy gave Congress an unfunded request for $2.14 billion to buy 22 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft.

With the additional Growlers, the Navy would be able to expand the total numbers of aircraft in the service’s electronic attack squadrons from five to seven.

USS New York (LPD-21) in 2012. US Navy Photo
USS New York (LPD-21) in 2012. US Navy Photo

The compromise also included $800 million to start acquisition of a 12th San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious warship — adding an additional hull to the 11-ship class. Marine Corps leadership has longed stumped for the additional $1.7 billion ship and the Navy recently made a decision to use the LPD-17 hull form as the basis of its LX(R) next generation amphibious warship.
Funding for three additional Littoral Combat Ships were also included in the compromise bill.

The legislation is slated to reach the House floor as early as this week and the Senate next week.

The staffers indicated that the bill should easily pass the House and likely pass the Senate.

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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