As you know, carriers undergo a mid-life nuclear refueling and comprehensive overhaul (RCOH) and the USS Washington is the next up in line. She was scheduled to begin the refueling in 2016 but budget questions have delayed the work until at least 2017. In fact, the Navy had floated the possibility of an early retirement for the carrier and had publicly stated that they would wait until the 2016 budget to make any decision, thereby ensuring further schedule delays. Predictably, this caused a bit of an outcry in Congress which responded by including $850M in the 2015 budget for
’s refueling. Washington
The $850M was widely reported as ensuring that the
would be refueled, overhauled, and retained, thereby maintaining the 11 carrier force level. Unfortunately, that’s not even remotely correct. The RCOH is estimated to require 44 months and will cost around $4.7B. The $850M is little more than enough to get the ship into drydock. At best, it might cover the removal of the spent fuel which has to be done whether the ship is refueled or retired. Washington
Thus, the ship’s RCOH is hardly assured, yet. Add in the fact that a second round of sequestration is scheduled to hit in Oct 2015 with the attendant likelihood of additional budget cuts and the future of the
is anything but assured. The Navy was willing to retire the Washington before and future budget cuts will probably ensure that retirement. Washington
There’s another factor at play, here, that we’ve touched on briefly and that is the fact that the Navy only has 9 active air wings. A carrier without an air wing is useless. If
is retained, we’ll have 11 carriers (one is always in long term overhaul so that equates to 10 active carriers) and 9 air wings. So, only 9 carriers could actually operate. Does anyone think the Navy will pay for the operation and upkeep of an idled carrier that has no air wing? Some carrier is going to be early retired. Washington
I believe the Navy deactivated the tenth air wing in anticipation of
’s retirement and have found a bit more resistance from Congress than they anticipated. Washington
Of course, there’s always the possibility that the Navy could form a new air wing but the procurement cost of the aircraft alone would be on the order of $6B and that’s without considering the personnel costs and all the other associated costs. Does anyone think the Navy is going to come up with $6B for a new air wing? Not likely! Add to that the near certainty that the Navy’s F-35 buy will be significantly reduced and we see that air wings are going to continue to shrink, not form new air wings.
A carrier is going to be retired early.
Alternatively, though less likely, the
might be refueled and returned to service and the next carrier in line, the Stennis, I believe, might be the candidate for retirement. Washington
ComNavOps has been saying for some time that the carrier fleet is on its way down to 8-9. This is the next logical step and the budget issues make it almost inevitable. Note that I do not agree with this trend – I merely observe it happening.
On a somewhat related note, we’ve seen that the Navy has attempted to early retire a carrier, half the Aegis cruiser force, several big deck amphibs, and various auxiliary support ships, all while aggressively pushing for 52 toothless LCS’s. Honestly, if the Chinese had slipped an agent into the CNO’s position and instructed him to disrupt and dismantle the Navy, he couldn’t do a better job than we are doing to ourselves. But, that’s another topic …