Bill to keep carrier totals $796M in 2015


Congress would have to come up with $796 million for fiscal 2015 for the Navy to begin planning to retain the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, according to a new Pentagon cost comparison.

The Navy was ready to sacrifice the carrier to cut costs over the next five years but was pushed to maintain it after the White House intervened. Now the service is planning to put off until next year a decision to either deactivate the carrier or start the complex process of refueling it.

The new bill of costs, provided by the Defense Department to Congress and obtained Thursday by POLITICO, suggests lawmakers will have to find $796 million elsewhere in the Pentagon’s budget if they advance the initial stages of the refueling to fiscal 2015 rather than allow the Navy to delay the decision.

According to the Pentagon’s document, dated March 20, the cost to deactivate the carrier would total $1.1 billion over the next five years, including $46 million next fiscal year for “advance planning.”

But if the Navy decides to retain the carrier and its air wing, the price tag would come to $8.1 billion over the next five years. Under this scenario, however, the Navy wouldn’t have to pay the deactivation costs, bringing the net cost to about $7 billion.

That would translate to $796 million in additional funding next fiscal year and more than $3 billion in fiscal 2016, with annual costs falling after that. The Navy is seeking to potentially push these costs back a year, if it’s able to keep the carrier at all.

“There are very few places that you can find $7 billion in any budget,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

Still, lawmakers are vowing to ensure that the carrier remains part of the Navy fleet. Rep. Randy Forbes, who chairs the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said Wednesday he “looks forward” to reshaping the fiscal 2015 budget to retain the George Washington.

“Congress has a responsibility to restore those funds to maximize the service life of our aircraft carriers and enable the Navy to maintain the 11 carriers it requires to fulfill the requirements of our combatant commanders,” the Virginia Republican said.

His pledge comes amid a lobbying blitz by the companies that build aircraft carriers and supply their parts. This week, members of the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition visited congressional offices and bought ads, including in POLITICO, urging Congress to fund the George Washington’s refueling.

Halfway through their 50-year service lives, aircraft carriers need their nuclear reactors refueled, an expensive and complex process. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that without additional sequester relief in fiscal 2016 and beyond, the Navy will be forced to cancel the George Washington’s refueling and retire the ship.

Navy commanders say they won’t make a final decision until next year. But shipbuilding advocates in Congress are trying to force the service’s hand, restoring funds this year to begin buying shipyard materials and nuclear components for the refueling.

Still, questions remain about how they’ll offset the $796 million bill and whether lawmakers can force the Navy to spend the money on their intended purpose. “It would be difficult to find tools to compel them to execute the funds,” said one Republican House staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

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