We can’t stay ‘stagnant’: Navy chief defends decision to decommission aircraft carrier by Russ Read

“One thing that characterizes success and failure, I think, is our ability to just move,” said Richardson, the chief of naval operations, in a speech to the Future Security Forum in Washington, D.C. “The most mortal sin we can have right now is to stay stable or stagnant.”

Decommissioning the Truman two decades early was a budgetary decision, according to Richardson.

“So, we’re trying to move, and that is exactly the decision dynamic with respect to what’s more relevant for the future,” said the admiral. “Is it going to be the Harry S. Truman and its air wing where there’s a lot of innovation taking place, or is it something else?”

That something else, in Richardson’s view, are new technologies like unmanned and autonomous technologies, artificial intelligence, and, in particular, directed-energy weapons, which he believes are going to be “very decisive” in future warfare.

“Think lasers, high-powered microwaves. Electromagnetic energy in a focused way that can deliver kinetic or nonkinetic effects,” he said.

The Navy has been a trailblazer in directed-energy technologies and plans to deploy a laser on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer by 2021. HELIOS, the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance, is a 60-watt weapon tailor-made literally to burn small boats out of the water, making it an ideal countermeasure to the boat swarms being developed by adversaries like Iran and China.

Richardson has made adopting new technologies a priority since taking charge of naval operations in 2015. While making sure the fleet stays modern is uncontroversial in Washington defense circles, the measures being taken to get there are not, with the decision to decommission the Truman chief among them.

Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed his disapproval of the decision during a committee hearing in March. “I am a little disturbed by the idea that we will be taking the USS Truman out of the system, and I wonder how this will work in our sheer numbers,” he said.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan defended the decision at the time, noting decommissioning the Truman will save the Pentagon $3.4 billion.

The early decommissioning of the Truman will drop the number of carriers available to the fleet from 11 to 10. Several members of Congress have expressed concern over what this might mean for warfighting capabilities, but there is also a legal requirement that the Navy maintain 11 carriers in the fleet. Critics have also questioned why the Pentagon would decommission a carrier as President Trump is trying to increase the Navy fleet to 350 ships from 272. Congress is likely to bring up the issue again when it returns from its spring recess.

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