“A 10-carrier, nine Carrier Air Wing force sounds about right to me,” Robert Work, former deputy defense secretary
Truman entered service in 1998 and was built to serve for 50 years, but like all nuclear carriers, it requires regular maintenance, periodic upgrades, and a major overhaul at mid-life when its reactor core runs out of uranium.
The ship in fact was supposed to undergo a Refueling & Complex Overhaul in 2024. The service plans to skip that in order to save money.
The onboard nuclear reactor will then be allowed to run down. This will keep the aircraft carrier in service between mid to late 2020s.
“The decision to skip the Truman’s RCOH [Refueling & Complex Overhaul] was part of the deal to fund two new carriers,” said former deputy defense secretary Robert Work. “We would end up with a smaller, but younger fleet…. Secretary [Bob] Gates made a decision to move to five-year [gaps between carriers], which would ultimately result in a 10-carrier fleet around 2040. So we are still on that path.”
“A 10-carrier, nine Carrier Air Wing force sounds about right to me,” said Work, who pushed for the Pentagon to embrace new strategies and technologies against high-end threats, “as technological uncertainty over the carrier’s vulnerability continues to be high.”
Losing the $6.5 billion overhaul would be a major blow for Newport News, the only shipyard on the planet capable of building a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. That said, it would be even more painful to cancel construction of a new Ford-class carrier, valued at over $12 billion.
“I don’t want to speculate on what will be in the President’s budget proposal,” said Beci Benton, a spokesperson for the Newport yard’s owner, Huntington-Ingalls Industries. “I can tell you that the mid-life refueling overhaul and maintenance availability of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier produces a recapitalized carrier capable of supporting current and future warfare doctrine and continuing to operate as the centerpiece of our Navy fleet and our national defense for another 25 years.”
“You shouldn’t cut a carrier just to save money: It should be part of a broader strategic rebalancing of the force, and that’s what it sounds like this is,” CSIS expert Todd Harrison said. “Carriers are increasingly less useful against adversaries that have anti-ship missiles with ranges greater than the range of strike aircraft on the carrier” — such as Russia and China.
The Navy has argued carriers are inherently flexible assets, mobile airbases with plenty of room to add new equipment or new airplanes to counter future threats. But as far as current budget plans go, Hendrix noted, the carrier will rely on relatively short-ranged fighters like the F/A-18E Super Hornet and the stealthy F-35C Lightning II for its offensive firepower. That requires it to close to well within the range of Chinese land-based anti-ship missiles so the fighters can reach their targets. (Fighters can refuel in mid-air, but the slow, bulky tankers are extremely vulnerable and can’t come any closer to enemy airspace than the carriers themselves).
As we have reported in January, Rear Admiral Lou Yuan, deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, has told an audience in Shenzhen that the ongoing disputes over the ownership of the East and South China Seas could be resolved by sinking two U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.
The high-profile, hawkish military commentator in fact reportedly declared the current trade spat was “definitely not simply friction over economics and trade,” but was instead a “prime strategic issue”.
His speech, delivered on Dec. 20 to the 2018 Military Industry List summit, declared that China’s new and highly capable anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles were more than capable of hitting U.S. Navy carriers, despite them being at the centre of a ‘bubble’ of defensive escorts.
“What the United States fears the most is taking casualties,” Admiral Lou claimed.
Yuan said the loss of one super carrier would cost the U.S. the lives of 5000 service men and women. Sinking two would double that toll.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com