Four cruisers scheduled to leave service because of budget cuts will remain running -- at least for now. One of the four, the Cowpens, launched two Standard SM-2 missiles simultaneously during exercises last week in the Western Pacific. (MC3 Paul Kelly / U.S. Navy)
Four Aegis missile cruisers scheduled to end their active careers in March will instead be kept in service, the U.S. Navy said Sept. 26.
The ships — the Cowpens, Anzio, Vicksburg and Port Royal — were to be decommissioned as part of a budget drawdown.
But three of the four congressional defense committees objected to the cuts, expressing concerns about weakening the fleet.
The Navy, while acknowledging “fiscal and readiness implications” in keeping the ships in service, has agreed to keep the ships running — for now.
“The Navy will work with Congress to resolve these concerns,” Lt. Courtney Hillson, a Navy spokesperson at the Pentagon, said late on Sept. 26.
“The Navy intends to retain these ships in service pending completion of the fiscal year 2013 authorization and appropriation process, or other agreement with Congress,” Hillson added.
Completion of the 2013 defense bills has been put off and, before recessing for the elections, the House and Senate each approved a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running for six months through March 31. The CR does not specifically address individual ship deactivations.
In addition to the four ships, three more cruisers and two amphibious ships are scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014. The new agreement does not address the 2014 ships.
In the markups for their 2013 defense bills, three of the defense committees offer variations on a plan to keep the ships running.
The House Armed Services Committee prohibits early retirement of six of the cruisers and the two amphibious ships. The exception is the Port Royal, heavily damaged after grounding in Hawaii in early 2009 and, despite expensive repairs, still experiencing problems.
The House Appropriations Committee provided funding to keep in service three of the cruisers scheduled to decommission in March.
The Senate Appropriations Committee funds all four cruisers through 2013.
Only the Senate Armed Services Committee is silent on the issue — by implication not objecting to the early retirements.
Each of the cruisers has a crew of about 350 sailors. News that the ships will be kept in service will affect numerous individual personnel assignments.
The Cowpens, based in Japan, is currently underway in the Western Pacific.
The Norfolk-based Anzio is taking part in an international exercise in the Caribbean, while the Mayport-based Vicksburg is escorting the aircraft carrier Enterprise deployed around the Arabian Sea.
The Port Royal is believed to be at her homeport of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Carrier Work Continues
Congress and the Navy have also agreed on a measure to avoid a serious funding problem caused by the lack of a regular budget that could have caused work on one aircraft carrier to come to a halt and prevented work beginning on another.
At issue was the refueling overhaul of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt. The ship is now in the later stages of a three-and-a-half-year nuclear refueling overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. Without congressional approval for extra money to complete the work, funds would run out around mid-January for a job that will take until June to finish.
The next carrier to be refueled, the Abraham Lincoln, already has arrived in Virginia from her West Coast base, and her overhaul is to begin with fiscal 2013 funds.
But before adjourning for recess, Congress approved a Sept. 18 Navy reprogramming request, allocating $219.1 million for the two carrier overhauls along with some other work.
“With Congress’ assistance, we have sufficient funding to keep the aircraft carrier refueling overhaul program for USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) on track through the completion of the six-month CR period,” Hillson said.
According to a Congressional source, the reprogramming request included $68 million for the Roosevelt and $96.1 million to get the Lincoln overhaul started.
Another $55 million has been re-allocated to the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program to cover increased labor and overhead costs.
Congress agreed to the requirement for the additional destroyer program funds in the 2012 omnibus funding bill, but did not provide money for the program.
The funds for the programming, the Congressional source said, came from personnel accounts where budgeting assumptions “turned out to be lower than budgeted for.”
The accounts funding the $219.1 million reprogramming are Military Personnel Navy ($138.1 million), Military Personnel Marine Corps ($70 million) and Military Personnel Marine Reserve Corps ($11 million).
No programs are being reduced because of the reprogramming moves, the Congressional source said.