The midlife refueling overhaul for the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) is scheduled for 2024, but once again, the Department of Defense (DoD) wants to eliminate an aircraft carrier because it believes the refueling overhaul funds can be better used elsewhere. President Barack Obama’s administration tried to cancel the refueling midlife overhauls of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and George Washington (CVN-73), only to see Congress insist on both.
In this case, DoD wants to reprogram about $3.5 billion between now and the end of 2028. The Harry S. Truman is scheduled to enter the shipyard in 2024 for a three-year, midlife overhaul that would include new nuclear fuel (to keep her in service to at least 2048). Note that the refueling costs comprise only about 10 percent of the total because the nuclear fuel is already made and paid for with other funds.
Canceling the refueling without Congressional action would violate the law, however. U.S. Code Title 10, Section 8062 states:
The naval combat forces of the Navy shall include not less than 11 operational carriers. . . . An operational carrier includes an aircraft carrier that is temporarily unavailable for worldwide deployment due to routine or scheduled maintenance or repair.
It seems probable DoD told the Navy to say that the service decided to retire the ship—but why would the Navy choose to retire a carrier in violation of the law? The Navy knows the first thing to do should have been to ask Congress—constitutionally charged “to provide and maintain a Navy”—for a waiver before making such a decision.
We’re witnessing here the trickle-down effects of the sequester, which caused a backlog of ship maintenance and not enough repair facilities to take care of the growing backlog. I had hoped Congress to do the sane thing and carve out exemptions to provide for basic military maintenance, but was very quickly disabused of that notion.