Flying a Different Flag: The Turkish frigate Gelibolu, the ex-Reid, approaches Doha, Qatar, on March 24. A number of foreign navies are eager to acquire ex-US Navy frigates, but politics is preventing some allies, like Turkey, from receiving any more. (Christopher P. Cavas/Staff)
WASHINGTON — The US Navy’s frigate force is rapidly shrinking as the 1980s-era ships are taken out of service. The Navy would love to transfer the ships to friendly nations for further service, and several nations are eager to have them.
But in recent years, congressional politics have made some of the proposed moves controversial, and measures to approve the transfers have run afoul of partisan politics, particularly when Turkey and Pakistan are concerned.
But on April 7, the House passed a bill approving the transfer of eight frigates — four to Taiwan, two to Thailand and two to Mexico. Two of the ships named in the bill already have left service, with the other six set to leave the US fleet in 2015.
The bill is with the US Senate, where it is tentatively scheduled to come to a floor vote on April 28, right after the body returns from its spring recess.
The House-sponsored bill came after a Senate bill introduced in November included the same ships, plus three more for Pakistan — along with a series of conditions that country has recoiled from meeting.
Forces in the Senate have balked at providing Pakistan with the ships, and a hold — reportedly from Sen. Rand Paul R-Ky. — has been placed on the bill. Earlier, Pakistan received one former US frigate.
Similar squabbles led to a frigate transfer bill dying with the previous Congress. That bill would have provided more frigates for Turkey, which operates eight ex-US frigates, and which has long been a recipient of US military assistance.
The latest House bill avoids those questions and centers the proposal on Taiwan. The bill was actually retitled the “Taiwan Relations Act Affirmation and Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2014.”
“The transfer to Taiwan of retired US Navy frigates is an important part of the US commitment to Taiwan’s security,” Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “The administration and Congress must continue to find ways to enhance Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities.”
Unlike most military bills, which originate in House and Senate armed services and appropriations committees, the foreign vessel transfer acts originated in foreign affairs committees.
The bills name specific countries and ships and set the conditions of transfer — usually by lease, grant or sale.
Passage of the bill would only approve a ship’s transfer if the specified nations and the US reach agreement. It does not indicate such a move is a done deal. In the past, ships have been approved for transfer to a specific nation, but no deal was agreed upon.
The House bill names four frigates for sale to Taiwan: Carr, which is in storage after being decommissioned in March 2013, and the Taylor, Gary and Elrod, all scheduled for inactivation in 2015.
Two frigates are proposed for transfer by grant to Thailand: the Rentz, scheduled to be decommissioned in May, and the Vandegrift, to leave service in 2015.
Two more ships — Curts, decommissioned in February 2013, and McClusky, to be decommissioned in 2015 — are listed for transfer by grant to Mexico.
All three countries operate ex-US Navy frigates.
Approval of the transfers in advance of the ships leaving US service is crucial. Storage of decommissioned ships can be expensive, and reactivating them adds to the cost.
If agreements are reached in advance, a “hot transfer” often is arranged, in which the US crew ceremonially decommissions the ship and walks off, the new command accepts the vessel on behalf of its government, and a foreign crew marches aboard.
The process saves all parties significant time, effort and money, and is greatly preferred.
The transfer bills also require countries receiving the ships to have vessel repairs and reconditioning done in US shipyards.