Congress has taken steps to ensure that the Navy is able to operate and maintain 11 aircraft carriers by providing funding for the refueling and overhaul of the USS George Washington carrier.
The House and Senate armed services committees included a measure in the National Defense Authorization Act to transfer up to $650 million from shipbuilding accounts for the refueling and complex overhaul of the USS George Washington.
The continued service of the USS George Washington will keep the Navy’s carrier fleet at 11, something which had been the source of both speculation and debate. Many defense analysts said the Navy deliberately kept the proper funding for refueling the George Washington out of their budget request because service leaders knew the White House was committed to 11 carriers.
If the USS George Washington was retired early and not refueled in order to serve out the remaining 25 years of its service life, then the Navy’s carrier fleet would have dropped down to 10. Mid-life refueling and overhaul is a process which can take up to four years to complete.
While some analysts had suggested the Navy could get by with 10-carriers, many proponents of an 11 carrier fleet pointed to the fact that in the 1980s the nation had 15 aircraft carriers. Up until 2011, Congress required by law that there be 15 aircraft carriers in the Navy, a number that was changed to 11 in 2011.
A group of lawmakers recently authored a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, urging the Pentagon to fund 11-carriers for the Navy.
Lawmakers wrote letters about the issue, many analysts and think tanks were called upon to provide insight, and many Navy budget planners deliberated trade-offs and the plusses and minuses of what the service would need to give up in order to keep the carrier fleet at 11.