It would not be a “bad thing” if Congress ultimately blocks the Navy from taking half its cruisers out of service next year as long as lawmakers follow a historical pattern of providing the funds to keep the ships operating, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said Wednesday.

Greenert told reporters the Navy’s 2015 budget proposal that includes sidelining 11 of the 22 cruisers for long-term modernization was not an ideal solution but instead driven by spending constraints. If Congress can pay to operate the ships, the Navy will keep active, he said.

The USS Lake Erie (CG-70) cruiser. Photo: U.S. Navy
The USS Lake Erie (CG-70) cruiser. Photo: U.S. Navy

“It’s not a good idea to put into a modernization availability a ship before it really needs to go in and that is not something we wanted to do but felt we were compelled to do,” Greenert said at a breakfast hosted by the Defense Writers Group. “So if the decision is ‘no, I don’t want you do that, here’s the money, continue to operate those ships,’ that’s not a bad thing.”

“We need ships,” he added.

The Navy’s attempt to place the cruisers into inactive status has not been well received in Congress.

The House Armed Services Committee, in its version of a defense authorization bill for 2015, would allow the Navy to mothball only two of the Ticonderoga-class (CG-47) cruisers for modernization. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup for the legislation is expected to be complete this week.

“What would be optimal is that we continue to operate (the ships) and then when the time comes bring them in for modernization,” he said.  “But I need operating money to do that, personnel money, and we don’t have that in the funds given to us.”

The oldest of the Ticonderogas have already undergone modernization, meaning the newer ones currently designated for inactive status would need the upgrades as well to maximize their service lives, he said.

“They do need to be modernized,” he said.

The Navy’s plan outlined in March would yank the 11 cruisers from the active fleet for the long-term modernization and gradually return as the service retires the older ones. That plan was sharply criticized on Capitol Hill. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), the chairman of the HASC seapower subcommittee, said in March it could lead to the Navy electing to never return the cruisers to service and at some point simply retire them.

In previous fiscal years the Navy attempted to retire seven cruisers, a move that was blocked by Congress, before trying a different approach this year.