This week lawmakers said they expect to fund the refueling of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) aircraft carrier, overriding the Navy’s FY 2020 budget request.
When pressed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Seapower Seapower subcommittee on Wednesday, Vice Adm. William R. Merz, Deputy Chief Of Naval Operations For Warfare Systems, said the warfighting impact of canceling the refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) and eventual retiring of Truman would not be felt until around 2027-28 when it would have rejoined the fleet.
The practical impact would be a reduction of one carrier from the Navy until it would otherwise be retired in 2048.
Cotton raised the issue that Congress could resolve the tradeoff between the Truman and moving forward with technology improvements “simply by giving you a little more money in the shipbuilding program over the five-year defense plan and into the future.”
James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, noted while RCOH funding is “fairly negligible in FY ’20, starting in FY 2021-22 the Navy would normally start ordering long-lead equipment and activities for the refueling. Then, in 2023-24, the Navy would start the labor portion of the refueling.
“Yes, this is a reversible decision but we would like not to reverse it at the expense of these other capabilities that we need to pursue and every indication has told us we need to evolve and to pursue,” Merz said.
The Navy officials’ line has been the service is trying to balance the Truman’s full service life against studies that tell the Navy it needs to push more on future technologies like autonomy, artificial intelligence, directed energy, and railguns.
On Tuesday, the same Navy officials defended the decision to the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee (Defense Daily, March 26).
Merz told the Senators on Wednesday this was a “warfighting investment decision” and that “we decided now is the time to move out on” the new investments.
Both Merz and Geurts underscored the decision was made now so the Pentagon and Congress would have another year before it needed a final decision and would have until 2027-29 to prepare for a 10-carrier force.
Ranking Member Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) later was able to get a more affirmative answer from the officials that, if they had their preference, they would like to retain CVN-75.
“Our druthers would be to not surrender a carrier that has 50 percent of its life remaining, but we would like to not do that at the expense of moving out on these other technologies,” Merz said.
“Well, basically, we should consider giving you more money, right?” Hirono said.
That way the Navy could not only save the Truman but work on the other technologies and distributed systems shaping the future naval warfare.
Then, on Thursday, more members of Congress expressed confidence in funding the Truman’s RCOH.
“If I had to bet, I would bet that this one would sort of come out in the way that the George Washington refueling effort came out when the Obama administration suggested that they might not do the refueling of that ship at midpoint,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told the Aircraft Carrier Industrial base Coalition during an event Thursday.
“We were able to obviously decide as a Congress we wanted it — my gut tells me this is going in the same direction, but no complacency, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Kaine added.
Rep Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said, “we’re going to take care of that, we’re going to do everything we can, we have great leadership on the [House Armed Services] Seapower subcommittee with [ranking member] Rob Wittman and [chairman] Joe Courtney and good membership on that committee, and so we’re going to turn that around.”
Wittman told the group “we want to make sure we’re on top of that. I can guarantee you that that will be front and center in the conversations we have as part of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.”