The head of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee told Defense News Thursday he would block the early decommissioning of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman when it comes before congress this spring.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., told reporters he there was no chance the measure would be endorsed in his subcommittee this year during the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act markup.
“This is really a 2021 issue in terms of timing, when the Truman has to go into its refueling,” Courtney said. “So I think in terms of it getting any endorsement in the seapower mark this year I think is zero.”
Courtney’s comments come on the heels of a Breaking Defense report that the Pentagon was planning to cancel the Truman’s planned 2024 mid-life refueling and decommission the carrier in an effort to save $30 billion over 25 years. The Navy has to plan for major carrier midlife overhauls years in advance. If the Navy were going to cancel Truman’s overhaul, the service would have to make the decision soon.
But the Truman is too young to pull out of service, Courtney said.
“The Truman is only about 25 years old which in [terms of] an aircraft carrier is actually pretty young,” he said. "So, we just approved a two-carrier block buy in September. So to do that and then reduce the size of the carrier fleet seems like a contradictory policy, as far as I’m concerned."
Back to the future
This is the second time in the past decade the Navy has tried to cancel a mid-life reactor refueling.
During the Obama administration, the Navy tried to decommission the carrier George Washington when it returned from its forward deployed status in Japan. That effort died after the White House backed down from the plan in 2014.
The proposal came about as a result of across-the-board spending cuts in 2013 mandated by the Budget Control Act.
At the time, the move faced fierce opposition from Capitol Hill. The Navy was already seeing record deployment lengths due to standing carrier presence requirements, and removing a carrier from the inventory would have only exacerbated the problem. Lawmakers also argued that giving up a carrier would signal a retreat from American seapower.
Courtney noted that a few years back, then Congressman Mick Mulvaney, now President Trump’s chief of staff, introduced a measure to reduce the number of carriers required by law from 11 to 10.
That move became a point of contention with the late Sen. John McCain, then head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who refused to back Mulvaney as Trump’s budget director, in part due to the carrier measure.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.