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Carriers at Risk From Continuing Resolution

Sep. 17, 2012 - 08:51AM   |  
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS   |   Comments
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Another continuing resolution (CR) will keep funding most of the government’s operations, but the six-month stopgap measure passed by the House on Sept. 13 could leave some of the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding programs high and dry.

The fleet’s aircraft carrier programs are most at risk, a top Navy official said, and submarine and destroyer construction efforts could be affected as well.

Most acutely, work to refit and refuel the nuclear carrier Theodore Roosevelt could come to a halt only months before the ship is to return to service.

“When they run out of money, it’s going to be, ‘Put your tools down and walk away,’” said one congressional source.

Lawmakers acknowledge that several key shipbuilding issues affected by the CR will have to be addressed in special legislation even before an agreement is reached about funding the remainder of fiscal 2013.

But it’s more likely to be taken up by the new 113th Congress that will take office in early January rather than something the lame-duck 112th Congress will deal with after the November elections.

“I think the CR is what it is, and whatever deficiencies there are, it will be up to the 113th Congress to bridge those gaps,” Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told reporters after a Sept. 11 hearing on Navy shipbuilding.

“The refueling of the Theodore Roosevelt,” Wittman added, is “a gap that’s going to have to be bridged with legislation by the 113th Congress.”

But that might be too late to keep workers on the job. The ship, which entered Newport News Shipyard in Virginia in August 2009, is in the final stages of a $3 billion, midlife refueling overhaul meant to keep it running for another 25 years. The overhaul was to have been completed in February 2013, but last year, growth work on the project extended the completion date to June.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, noted last summer that the four-month delay already meant extending other carrier deployments to cover the Roosevelt’s absence.

Further delays would exacerbate that situation.

Asked to assess the impact of the CR on Navy shipbuilding programs, Sean Stackley, the service’s top acquisition official, pointed straight at the aircraft carrier programs.

“That’s frankly where our concern is greatest,” he told Wittman’s House Armed Services readiness subcommittee on Sept. 11.

Without the $135 million that the Navy is asking for the carrier in its 2013 budget request, Stackley said, “our funding will not take us to completion. We’re going to need subsequent budget action to pick up the balance of the [overhaul]. Our concern is that we will disrupt the completion … which would impact that ship’s schedule and ultimately cause cost increases.”

The CR doesn’t help the Roosevelt’s situation, since there is no money for the project in the 2012 budget, and spending bills don’t allow officials to shift shipbuilding money between programs.

The refueling overhaul of the carrier Abraham Lincoln, scheduled to begin in February, would also be affected by a CR, Stackley noted.

The Navy is asking for $1.6 billion in the 2013 budget to begin that work, also at Newport News, which builds and refuels all of the Navy’s aircraft carriers.

Work also is set to begin in 2013 on the carrier John F. Kennedy, the next ship in the CVN 78 class.

New multiyear procurement programs to buy more SSN 774 Virginia-class submarines and DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers would also be affected by a CR, Stackley said.

Submarine construction would likely continue under the CR, since two submarines were funded in 2012 and the Navy wants two more in 2013.

But the destroyer program could be delayed, since the service is asking for two ships in 2013, up from the one ship in 2012.

Stackley noted that special legislation was enacted in 2005 to continue funding of the carrier Carl Vinson’s overhaul, and a CR didn’t cover it.

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