U.S. sailors aboard the carrier Abraham Lincoln muck out a catapult trough on Jan. 28 to ready the ship for a major overhaul -- now postponed by the Navy because of a lack of Congressional funding. (MC3 Jeremiah Mills / U.S. Navy)
The refueling overhaul of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln has been postponed by the U.S. Navy — another manifestation of Congress’s inability to pass a 2013 defense funding bill.
The ship was scheduled to move in mid-February from Virginia’s Norfolk naval base to Newport News Shipbuilding to begin a $3.3 billion, three-and-a-half-year overhaul. The work, called a refueling complex overhaul (RCOH), is a major mid-life job that renews the ship to serve another 20-25 years.
The Navy needs $1.5 billion to cover the work through the end of September, which is the end of fiscal 2013. While Congress granted $96 million in October to cover expenses for the first half of the fiscal year, that money runs out after March, and the Navy doesn’t want to make the move to Newport News without knowing whether it has the money to continue the work in the spring.
For now, the Lincoln will remain pierside at the naval base until Congress sorts out the funding picture.
Any significant delay in beginning the Lincoln’s RCOH will ripple through years of carrier scheduling. A carrier undergoing RCOH typically spends about 18 months in drydock at Newport News. As soon as Lincoln completes her drydock period, the dock is scheduled to receive the carrier Enterprise to defuel its reactors and prepare her for eventual dismantling. By the time that job is complete, the George Washington, the next carrier to undergo the refueling overhaul, is scheduled to arrive.
Across those three jobs, the dock is scheduled to have a carrier in it into early 2018 for all except a handful of weeks.
Any delay, the Navy noted in a statement, will also have an impact on carrier maintenance and operational availability, and increase the Lincoln’s RCOH costs.
Congress can address the Lincoln’s funding shortfall by taking special action to address the cost differences or, the Navy noted in a statement, by passing a 2013 defense spending bill.
“The fiscal uncertainty created by not having an appropriations bill — and the measures we are forced to take as a result — place significant stress on an already strained force and undermines the stability of a fragile industrial base,” the Navy said in a statement announcing the ROCH delay.
In a statement, Christie Miller, a spokesperson for Newport News’ parent corporation Huntington Ingalls, expressed the company’s disappointment at the postponement of the Lincoln’s RCOH.
“This is not a cancellation of the USS Lincoln’s RCOH at Newport News Shipbuilding,” Miller said. “At Huntington Ingalls Industries, we continue to actively negotiate the Lincoln RCOH contract with the Navy, and we intend to continue our efforts on the ship at the Navy base in Norfolk and will work to make as much progress as possible, as efficiently as possible, prior to its arrival.
“We are disappointed with this turn of events. This delay is the direct result of the lack of a defense appropriations bill. We’ve been very clear and consistent in our efforts to communicate the problems surrounding the lack of a defense appropriations bill for 2013. We’ve also communicated the potentially adverse impact that the current continuing resolution – as well as the threat of an extension of a CR for the balance of the year — has on the Navy’s ability to execute new work and the already fragile industrial base.
“While we continue to work hard to find a resolution, any delay in Lincoln’s arrival will clearly impact the efficiency of the original plan, and as the Navy has communicated, affect other carrier maintenance and the fleet’s future operational readiness in the defense of America.”