Vice President Mike Pence told sailors on the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) Tuesday in Norfolk, Va. that the administration will not retire the ship, as the Navy previously planned in its FY ’20 budget request to Congress.

“As I stand before you today, I know that the future of this aircraft carrier is the subject of some budget discussions in Washington, D.C.,” Pence said.

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

“As we continue to fight Congress to make sure that our military has the resources you need to accomplish your mission, President Donald Trump asked me to deliver a message to each and every one of you on the deck of the USS Truman: we are keeping the best carrier in the world in the fight. We are not retiring the Truman. The USS Harry S. Truman is going to be giving ‘em hell for many more years to come,” he added.

In March, the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 Defense Department budget request first proposed the Navy cancel the Truman’s scheduled refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH). Stopping the RCOH cuts its life by abut half, forcing it to retire about 25 years early. RCOH was planned for FY ’24 and without the work the carrier would be retired in the late 2020s (Defense Daily, March 12).

The Navy previously said retiring CVN-75 early would save $3.4 billion within the Future Years Defense program (FYDP), $2 billion in procurement savings after the FYDP, and $1 billion per year in operations and maintenance of the ship.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson argued the plan does not change the Navy’s view of the importance of carriers. He said it is part of balancing capabilities so the Navy can further invest in technologies like unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, and directed energy weapons (Defense Daily, March 13).

The Navy’s acquisition chief James Geurts told Congress last month at a House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee hearing that this 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).

After his speech, Pence told local news media the decision came when he spoke to President Trump Tuesday morning, before going to Norfolk.

“I told him that there were budget discussions taking place for the future of this ship. We reflected on the incredible history and contributions, past and present of USS Truman, President Trump told me to announce we are not retiring Truman,” local news WVEC 13 News Now reported from the gaggle.

Pence added the budget is a deliberative process where “people bring their best ideas forward.” However, Pence said as they reflected on the ship’s service “he [Trump] made the decision on the spot” and “the president told me – you go tell that crew we are not retiring the Truman.”

Vice President Mike Pence (White House photo)

Pence said “budgets are always about give and take” but he is “very confident that we’re going to keep the USS Truman sailing even while we continue to make the kind of investments” the CNO talked about.

Members of Congress who always opposed the plan were glad to see this reversal.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and also serves on the Defense Subcommittee told Defense Daily he was not privy to what happened behind the scenes “but a lot of us have thought that we shouldn’t retire that carrier.”

Shelby said Congress “didn’t want to [retire] it. I think it’s bipartisan that the Truman has a lot of life in it. It’s not an old ship.”

“I thought all along that it would be in our interest to look at repairing, modernizing, whatever we need, because that’s a good carrier. It could have a lot longer life,” he added.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee with the repair facility in his state, said in a statement that as an opponent of the early retirement he was “gratified that the Administration listened and is now committed to the refueling. This is the right call for our national security.”

Kaine told Defense Daily “I don’t know what was being said over on the House side, but … ever since it came out, anybody coming up before SASC was hearing from both the R side and the D side, this makes no sense.”

When asked why this may have happened, Kaine said in strategic posture hearings the Navy underscored the importance of the carrier, but this budget not refueling the Truman “was just complete at odds with what we had been told. So I’m assuming that it was reported back to the White House that this is a nonstarter with Democrats and Republicans.”

Kaine added he thinks the administration has confidence Congress will fund the newer technologies in addition to the carrier refueling. “I don’t think he would have made that announcement unless they thought we were good about that.”

His colleague Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) agreed and said it appears the plan to retire the Truman was a “budget gimmick all along.”

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, also welcomed the decision.

“I am glad to learn that the Trump Administration has finally joined a broad and bipartisan range of opponents against the Trump Administration’s own plan to retire an aircraft carrier that is only about half-way through its planned service life,” Courtney said in a statement.

Courtney said the subcommittee received no information about a formal revision to the FY 2020 budget request and long-range fleet inventory plans and aircraft carrier force structure reflecting the change.

“I can only hope that we now have the Administration’s strong support as we prepare to mark up the 2020 defense authorization bill in the coming weeks and move ahead with our planned restoration of the refueling for the USS Harry S. Truman.”

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), whose district includes the Newport, Va., area where the RCOH work would occur and has opposed the plan, welcomed the news.

“I’m glad that the administration reversed itself because this would have been an awful decision for Hampton Roads and America. As someone who served two years on the USS Harry S. Truman, I have firsthand knowledge of its value and ability to bring sustained power anywhere on Earth,” Luria said in a statement.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee told Defense Daily, “I guess they [the administration] discovered that that proposal is not particularly good policy or good anything.”

Reed said when an administration sends its budget request you presume “that they thought through all these consequences very thoroughly, and that’s their position. But that’s not the case with this administration.”