NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) on Monday said the “environment” led to the reversal of the decision to not refuel and then retire the USS Harry S. Truman

(CVN-75) aircraft carrier halfway through its service life.

Adm. John Richardson addressed the Truman reversal here in the opening panel of the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space Exposition.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) transits the Atlantic Ocean in September 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

“We were always fundamentally prepared to reverse that decision if that’s what the environment showed. The environment showed that earlier than we anticipated.”

Richardson continued that this environment change “provides clarity in terms of our way forward in respect to this decision, and so it’s just a matter of finding the resources to go get it done.”

He underscored after the Navy’s FY 2020 budget request was unveiled in March service officials have said in posture hearings and in other statements that this plan was trying to best balance the contributions of the Truman versus advanced technologies.

Richardson said the Navy’s Truman plan was also mindful of the ongoing new Force Structure Assessment due at the end of the summer and updated global campaign plans. “We said this is a potentially reversible decision, pending the outcome of those studies.”

In March, the Navy’s acquisition chief James Geurts a House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee hearing that cutting the Truman refueling was a tough decision, but the Navy was making it early enough so there could be a robust discussion with time to change it (Defense Daily, March 26).

However, CNO’s explanation on Monday of the environment leading to changes clashes with what Vice President Mike Pence plainly said last week: that President Trump made a sudden decision upon hearing about the debate.

Last week, Pence announced to the crew during a visit to the Truman that Trump said they would not retire the carrier (Defense Daily, April 30).

Following his address, Pence told reporters he talked to Trump about the carrier and the possibility it would be retired early, then “he made the decision on the spot” and “the President told me – you go tell that crew we are not retiring the Truman.”

Pence also said he was “very confident” the administration will both fund CVN-75 and continue making investments in future technology.

In March the CNO said the plan aimed to help the Navy rebalance its priorities so it could invest more in technologies like unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, and directed energy weapons (Defense Daily, March 13).

Later on Monday, Capt. Pete Small, program manager for unmanned maritime systems, gave his impression on what the Truman reversal means for his portfolio, which includes many of the new technologies and capabilities that Navy officials said would benefit budgetarily from the CVN-75 retirement.

The program office falls under Program Executive Office (PEO) Unmanned and Small Combatants (USC).

Small said he does not expect the Truman refueling to cut his programs, especially after his office just got through explaining their programs and plans to Congress.

He said he is confident the Navy understands the importance of his programs and is “optimistic that at the end we have broad Navy support coming from the requirements side of the house, the resourcing side of the house.”

“So I’m optimistic that whatever happens with PB20 [current budget request], all of the efforts that I described are going to continue into the future,” Small added.