By Mike McCarthy
Senate appropriators have blocked the Navy’s plan to sideline 11 Ticonderoga-class (CG-47) cruisers for long-term modernization and, like their colleagues in the House, placed limits on how many of the ships can be taken out of service at any given time for the upgrades.
The Senate defense appropriation bill for fiscal 2015 scolded the Navy for its repeated attempts to get rid the cruisers, while allowing the service to start modernizing two of the cruisers in 2015 and said no more than six can be out of service at the same time to undergo the work.
The USS Lake Erie (CG-70) cruiser. Photo: U.S. Navy
“The committee is perturbed by the Navy’s disregard for congressional direction provided for two consecutive years,” the language said, referring to unsuccessful attempts by the Navy the previous two budget proposals to retire seven cruisers early. Regarding the Navy’s latest proposal to layup and eventually return the ships, the senators questioned whether the Navy would actually bring them back as stated.
“The committee does not support the Navy’s proposal due to concerns over the duration of the proposed lay-up period for several of the ships…and severe doubts as to whether the Navy would execute the phased modernization plan as proposed given the volatility in Navy budgets in recent years.”
The proposed Senate bill is similar to the House bill unveiled last month, but there are some differences. While the Senate said the Navy could start work on two in 2015, the House prefers 2016. It was also stipulated that no more than two can go into modernization per year and no more than six at any given time, and that the work must be complete within four years.
The Navy wanted to take 11 of the 22 Ticonderoga-class cruisers out of service for long-term modernization starting in 2015. The service said the plan would save money in the short run while allowing the upgrades and returning the ships to service gradually as the other cruisers are retired.
The Senate lawmakers said the current ship modernization and sustainment fund of $1.7 billion is enough to fund the upgrades in the near term.
The Navy has urged lawmakers to sign off on its original plan, saying that doing so would allow the Navy to extend the life of the cruisers to 2040 and keep a critical capability in the fleet longer. However, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, told reporters earlier this year it would not be a “bad thing” if Congress stopped the Navy’s plan as long as lawmakers followed its historical pattern of providing the funds to keep the ships operating. He added the plan was driven by fiscal constraints.
“It’s not a good idea to put into a modernization availability a ship before it really needs to go in and that is not something we wanted to do but felt we were compelled to do,” Greenert said in May. “So if the decision is ‘no, I don’t want you do that, here’s the money, continue to operate those ships,’ that’s not a bad thing.”
“We need ships,” he added.
The oldest of the Ticonderogas have already undergone modernization, meaning the Navy designated the newer ones for inactive status for upgrades to maximize their service lives.