Mabus: “We Very Much Want to Keep” George Washington

BY  JOHN C. MARCARIO, Associate Editor

ARLINGTON,  Va. — The decision to not include funds in Navy’s fiscal 2015 budget request to  put the aircraft carrier USS George  Washington through midlife refueling and overhaul does not signal that the  Navy plans to decommission it, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said March 25 during a  House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on  defense budget hearing.

The  carrier is scheduled to begin midlife refueling in 2016, but the Navy’s move  has left some in Congress suggesting that it meant the service already had made  the decision to decommission George  Washington in fiscal 2016.

Committee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chastised the panel, which included Mabus,  Chief of Naval Operations ADM Jonathan W. Greenert and Marines Commandant Gen  James F. Amos, saying questions remained over the decision to not fund the  overhaul in fiscal 2015.

Mabus  said the Navy will work the committee, and do whatever it’s asked to show that the  service plans to maintain an 11-carrier fleet and carry out the refueling in  later years.

“The  only thing we have done with the George  Washington is move the decision one year … Having said that, we very much  want to keep the [ship],” he said.

“We’ve  got an issue here. …We need to be able to plan what you are going to do. It’s  an enormous cost if we change our mind, as you know,” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.,  said.

Mabus  received the lion’s share of questions from appropriators, which focused on a  potential base realignment and closure (BRAC) decision in fiscal 2017, the  Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet, risk levels, sequestration and the Ohio  replacement submarine replacement program. The Navy Department’s fiscal 2015 budget  request of $148 billion is part of the Department of Defense $495.6 billion  request.

On  the potential for a BRAC, Mabus said everything needs to be on the table in  this fiscally constrained environment.

“In  the past, because of past BRAC rounds, we have gotten rid of most of our excess  capacity,” he said.

Greenert  said he, too, supports a BRAC if it’s needed.

“It’s  not a bad process and it’s kind of cleansing to look at what you need  strategically and make a business case analysis of it,” he said.

Rep.  Steve Womack, R-Ark., was concerned that budget cuts were causing both the Navy  and Marine Corps to have an unacceptable level of risk.

Mabus  said the fiscal 2015 budget would provide an acceptable level of risk, but noted  that going forward that risk would dramatically increase if the strict budget caps  under sequestration return.

The  Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 eased deep cuts from the Budget Control Act of  2011 for two years, but those cuts will return in fiscal 2016 unless Congress  intercedes, thus lower the Defense Department’s budget cap.

Amos  said the level or risk is a balancing act of resources. The Marines currently  have a force of 193,000, but that could drop to 175,000 in the coming years  because of budget caps. The commandant said that the forward-deployed force is  highly capable and ready, but he’s had to take things away from the bases at  home in order to maintain a capable forward-deployed force.

On  the LCS, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum in February that “no  new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward.”

The  Navy intended to purchase 52 LCSs and already has contracted for 24 ships.  Under the current guidance, the Navy can procure up to eight more LCSs.

Mabus  said this is not an unusual decision to make for a new class of Navy ships. He added  that the first LCS deployment of USS Freedom last year to Singapore was a success despite some maintenance problems.

Mabus  said the Ohio replacement program remains on track, noting that the first  submarine should begin to be built in fiscal 2021 to be ready for sea by the  end of the decade.

The  current Ohio-class fleet is scheduled to begin decommissioning in fiscal 2029.  The replacement program is slated to build 12 ballistic-missile submarines to  replace the 14 currently in service. There are 18 total Ohio-class submarines  in the fleet as four were converted to guided-missile submarines.

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