Maintaining A Double-Digit Carrier Fleet

Last week, House Armed Services’ Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) affirmed that he does not plan to include language in the FY 2009 defense authorization bill that would allow the Navy to reduce the aircraft carrier fleet below the current legal requirement of 11 carriers. According to Taylor, the Navy has a “responsibility” to fund 11 ships. With the USS Gerald R. Ford joining the fleet in 2015, the Navy has argued that the $2.2 billion it would cost to keep the aging USS Enterprise operational from 2012-2015—thus maintaining the 11 career requirement—is not worth the cost.

Congressman Taylor and other members of his Committee are correct to hold the Navy to their carrier requirement. Last month, Heritage analyst Mackenzie Eaglen and James Dolbow laid the groundwork for this argument in their Web Memo, SOS: Congress must Save the Aircraft Carrier Fleet. Eaglen also took part in a Heritage Podcast on the issue. And just last week Ed Feulner, President of The Heritage Foundation, made a similar case in the pages of the Washington Times.

During the 1980’s, the U.S. Navy had 15 aircraft carriers available to meet its Cold War responsibilities. Today that number has dipped to 11, and 10 when you factor in that one Nimitz-class carrier is undergoing lengthy Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) at all times. According to Eaglen and Dolbow, “Congress should carefully examine whether the Navy currently has enough carriers to meet the services global commitments.” After factoring in the increased operational tempo the Navy has undertaken during the Long War, its global commitment to protecting the world’s shipping lanes, and the unprecedented modernization rate of the Chinese Navy, it is clear that the current carrier fleet size is insufficient to meet the challenges at hand—much less a smaller carrier fleet.

What can be done? Eaglen, Dolbow and Feulner all argue that not only should Congress reject the Navy’s request, but they should also considering accelerating the delivery of the USS Gerald. F. Ford and hold the Navy leaders’ “feet to the fire” to ensure the goal of a 12-career fleet is met by 2019, if not sooner. Chairman Taylor is right to stand firm and maintain the size of our carrier fleet. Let’s hope that the Senate is just as committed to doing the same.

(The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies.)

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