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HASC Votes to Cut Cruiser Modernization Timelines in Half Despite Navy Concerns

Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) on May 28, 2014. US Navy Photo

Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) on May 28, 2014. US Navy Photo

The House Armed Services Committee approved a plan by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) to cut the Navy’s cruiser modernization period in half — from four to two years.
Under current law, the Navy must put two cruisers into modernization a year, with the work period lasting no longer than four years with no more than six ships in a work availability at a time – more succinctly called the 2/4/6 plan. Forbes, who chairs the seapower and projection forces subcommittee, would cut the work period down to two years.

Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) opposed the reduced timelines saying changes now would cost the Navy time and money.

USS Cowpens (CG-63) and USS Gettysburg (CG-64) are on their way to the shipyards, he said, and if Congress forces a change in plans when the defense bill finally goes to the president’s desk – in December – the Navy would have to delay the work as the service work with the shipyards to figure out how to accomplish the same work in half the time.

Courtney said a four-year maintenance plan allows the yards to perform cruiser upgrades during lulls in their work cycle, whereas a two-year plan would force workers to move full-speed ahead regardless of what other ship classes need work on their own schedules.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert wrote to HASC chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on Tuesday to express his concerns, saying “this change would create affordability and executability challenges, as well as added strain on the shipbuilding industrial base, Sailors and their families.”

He went on to note that longer maintenance periods mean the Navy can reduce ship crew sizes – the original phased maintenance plan to lay up 11 ships and perform the modernization work as the older 11 cruisers near retirement would create $4.5 billion in manpower cost savings, he wrote, and even the 2/4/6 plan would create $300 to $400 million in savings. Forbes’ 2/2/6 plan does not allow for any crew reductions, he wrote.

Greenert added that the phased maintenance plan would keep cruisers in the fleet into the 2040s, whereas 2/4/6 would use up service life faster and result in the last cruiser retirement in 2038. The 2/2/6 plan would have the last cruiser retire in 2035.

Courtney cited this section of the letter, saying no cruiser replacement program exists today and that Congress shouldn’t force the Navy to eat up service life faster than the sea service wants to.

“We’re over the hurdle on whether or not cruisers are going to continue to be part of the fleet; the question now is just really what’s the smartest plan moving forward to modernize that critical component of our seapower,” he said.

Forbes rejected these arguments, saying the Navy didn’t want the cruisers and wouldn’t do the modernization work if Congress didn’t force it to.

Expressing his distrust of the Navy to bring the cruisers back to the fleet without congressional pressure, he reminded the committee of the Navy’s previous plan to retire seven cruisers early due to budget pressure.

“When Congress said no, it was like a scene from a Disney fairytale,” Forbes said.
“They went back, came back and said oh no no no, you guys misunderstood – we really don’t want to destroy the cruisers like we were talking about, what we want to do is put them in a real deep sleep, and we want to take off all their electronics, all their radar, all their manning, and 11 years from now we hope they’ll all wake up and be refreshed and be ready to go. But the kicker is … to this day the Navy has not put a penny into their Future Years Defense Programs to wake up these cruisers. And they tell us they’re not going to put money in there.”

HASC ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) spoke in support of Courtney’s amendment, saying Forbes’ plan would spend the money set aside for cruiser modernization too quickly. Forbes said the work could be done in 18 months and therefore the ships should be upgraded and returned to the fleet as quickly as possible.

Forbes framed the issue as his two-year plan versus the Navy’s preferred phased modernization plan, which would cut the cruiser fleet in half in the short term. All the Democrats on the committee except for two pushed for the four-year plan but lost in a 38-24 vote.

Because the 2/4/6 plan was passed in the defense appropriations bill last year, the House and Senate armed services committees never weighed in. The decision to support a 2/2/6 plan will be HASC’s first codification of a cruiser modernization plan beyond simply banning early retirements.

  • eclipse42

    I’m sure there is a benefactor in his district or he has made a deal with the Devil (another one like himself) to share profits somewhere for “consideration” of some kind.

  • We need ships for the battle line ASAP. The Navy for some reason is dragging it’s collective feet. Slow down carrier construction, eliminate or slow down (it is slow already) F35c buys, and get fighting ships to the fleet. Ballistic air defense is needed inpart because of PLAN’s ballistic anti-ship weapons. eclipse42- who cares who gets the dollars what we need is ships, ships, ships…the world is changing and apparently our Navy leaders have forgotten or have ignored Adm. Mahan. Forget the flaoting advanced bases, and all the anphibs. They are NO good if you can not control the seas so the Marines can get to where they can land. Only ships (less submarine fleet) that should be built in the next five years are surface combatants and supply/tankers. Delay and hold the carries should be the buzz words. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

    • Dan

      Our fleet is incredible, our ships are the best on the planet except our dreaded Perry’s. I would rather see fully operational capable ships than great numbers of ships with limited capabilities. I would not want to face the U.S. at any time. I believe we have the three most capable fleets in the world, our active fleet of course is fantastic, our ready reserve fleet and our museums, if we alone reactivated our museums we would have carriers and battleships cruisers destroyers and amphibious warships. I don’t believe you fully understand the scope of our fleet.

      • Curtis Conway

        Can you itemize how much it would cost, and how long it would take, to take any one of the units you mentioned to be fully functional, fully manned, and trained, and ready to deploy?

        • Dan

          I cant imagine how terrible it would be, but at least we wouldn’t need permission to build them, lots of red tape avoided. We have lots of extra’s in all types of ship’s, a luxury I personally like having, with the option of reactivating a Battleship is better than not having one to possibly reactivate even if it will never happen based on cost. How many country’s have an extra fleet of carriers floating around, extra Tico’s, etc..

  • Secundius

    FYI.

    You guy’s want a good laugh. Congress want’s too save a few Hundred Million Dollars, NOW. By keeping 22 Tico class Cruisers, 11 of which are going to be out of service for at least 4-years. Just to spend, several Ten’s of Billion’s of Dollars. For the NxG Cruiser, Design and Build in ~2035. ISN’T THAT A LOAD OF [email protected]#T or WHAT. Only in America? J.HC. LMAO, LOL…