Lawmaker Says Sequester Could Force Navy to Drop to Eight Carriers

BY  JOHN C. MARCARIO, Associate Editor

ARLINGTON,  Va. — The Navy will have a huge fight on its hands to keep the current fleet of  carriers at 11, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member of the House  Armed Services Committee, said May 1 in discussion hosted by the Center for  Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“They  will have a devil of a time keeping them at eight carriers,” he said.

The  main culprit for this, Smith said, would be the return of sequestration in  fiscal 2016, as the Navy has to balance building Littoral Combat Ships,  Virginia-class submarines and destroyers along with refueling costs for  aircraft carriers. Smith said the challenges will only get worse once the  Ohio-class submarine replacement program kicks into gear.

Defense  officials have said the first Ohio-class replacement boat will cost $6.3  billion in fiscal 2021 and each subsequent submarine will cost $4.9 billion  with the last one will begin being built in fiscal 2035.

“That  eats up a huge chunk of the budget,” he said, especially if sequester cuts,  which were enacted on March 1, 2013, but eased for two years in December by the  Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, return in full.

Sen.  Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Seapower April 16 that discussions had  begun on how to reduce the cuts in future years, but Smith said he does not  know anyone who is overly optometric that there is a path to get rid of the  cuts.

The  possibility a decrease in the carrier fleet already has met with fierce opposition  from lawmakers, notably Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., the chairman of the House  Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee.

Forbes  has criticized the Navy’s decision to defer a decision on the planned midlife  overhaul and nuclear refueling USS George  Washington for another year, or potentially decommission the ship, pointing  out that the law says the Navy must have 11 carriers in the fleet.

In  his subcommittee’s April 30 mark of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act,  Forbes included funding that would support the nuclear refueling of the  carrier, which he pointed out has 25 years of service life remaining.

The  Navy has said it would take $7 billion over five years to keep George Washington and its air wing in  the fleet, and it would not have that money under the sequestration-level  budgets.

Back to Top