Navy's Plan to Retire a Carrier Early Could Be Axed by New Bill

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits the Atlantic Ocean to her homeport of Norfolk, Va. Harry S. Truman was conducting training aircraft carrier qualifications off the coast of Florida. (U.S. Navy/Seaman Apprentice Leonard Adams)
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transits the Atlantic Ocean to her homeport of Norfolk, Va. Harry S. Truman was conducting training aircraft carrier qualifications off the coast of Florida. (U.S. Navy/Seaman Apprentice Leonard Adams)

Members of Congress are doubling down on the law requiring the Navy to operate 11 aircraft carriers after service leaders sought to send a flattop into early retirement.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee have drafted legislation that would bar the defense secretary from reducing the number of aircraft carriers below the previously set requirement of 11. Paying to refuel the carrier Harry S. Truman is "crucial to national security," they wrote.

"The committee continues to believe that the nation's pre-eminent power projection capability is embodied with the aircraft carrier strike group," the draft fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Bill states.

President Donald Trump is committed to keeping the Truman active for decades, Vice President Mike Pence told sailors in late April. That's despite the White House's 2020 budget including plans to retire the Truman decades early in lieu of paying to refuel the ship's nuclear reactor, which is typically done around the ship's midlife.

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"As part of this budget request, we made the difficult decision to retire the [Truman] in lieu of its previously funded refueling complex overhaul that was schedule to occur in [fiscal] 2024," the Navy's 2020 budget documents state. Navy leaders planned to use the cost savings to pay for new capabilities, including unmanned vessels.

The House bill, if passed, will officially scrap that plan.

"No funding would go toward anything that would reduce the carrier force structure below the current statutory requirement of 11," House Armed Services Committee staff members told reporters Monday.

The bill also proposes $17 million for the Navy to pay for the Truman's refueling and complex overhaul. Lawmakers are also suggesting that instead of retiring a carrier and dropping down to 10, the Navy build up to a 12-carrier fleet.

"The committee continues to support an expansion of the aircraft carrier force structure to obtain the Navy's requirement of 12 aircraft carriers," the bill states. That includes support for a two-carrier buy for the third and fourth in the Ford-carrier class, which Navy leaders say saves billions in taxpayer spending.

The Senate Armed Services Committee released its proposed budget plan last month. The two committees must agree on a compromised spending bill before it can be passed through Congress.

-- Patricia Kime contributed to this report.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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