The Pentagon reportedly plans to send one of its Nimitz-class aircraft carriers into early retirement at least two decades early, shrinking the carrier fleet to save billions of dollars.
Amidst rising anxiety over whether the US Navy’s thousand-foot-long flagships could evade Chinese missiles in a future war, the Pentagon has decided to cut the aircraft carrier fleet from 11 today to 10.
The U.S. military will scrap plans for a mid-life overhaul of one of its carriers, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported Tuesday. The carrier is the USS Harry S. Truman, which was scheduled to have its nuclear reactor core refueled in 2024, Breaking Defense’s Sydney Freedberg reported Wednesday.
The Truman, which entered service in 1998, was set to serve for half a century, as is the case with all of the Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. In 2024, the ship was to sail to Newport News shipyard for a Refueling & Complex Overhaul (RCOH) that was to be completed in 2028, Breaking Defense reported.
The plan to cancel the mid-life overhaul and retire this aircraft carrier, part of the soon-to-be-released 2020-2024 budget plan, would see the U.S. carrier fleet shrink in size from 11 to ten in the next few years.
While the Post estimated $4 billion in total savings, Breaking Defense writes that the decision may result in as much as $30 billion in savings over 25 years. The Post reports this decision was a compromise to ensure that the Navy could purchase two new Ford-class aircraft carriers, as the service announced last month.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has gone down this road, and there is a good chance that Congress sinks these plans.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. military proposed retiring the USS George Washington, commissioned in 1992, to cut costs. To prevent a fight with Congress, the White House intervened, offering to provide additional funding.
Retired Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix told Breaking Defense that the military may be using the Truman as a “bargaining chip” for a larger budget.
This new report comes as the debate intensifies about the value of aircraft carriers given the growing threat from Chinese standoff capabilities. While U.S. carriers have long been symbols of American military might, some experts say that they are becoming increasingly vulnerable targets rather than strategic assets.
The Navy, however, views the situation very differently.
“Rather than expressing the carrier as uniquely vulnerable, I would say it is the most survivable airfield within the field of fire,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said earlier this month.