NORFOLK, Va. — A report that appeared on Breaking Defense's website Wednesday said that the Department of Defense plans to shrink the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier fleet from 11 to 10 by retiring USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) well ahead of its lifespan.
The story said that by retiring the Truman approximately two decades ahead of schedule, the Pentagon could save more than $30 billion over the course of 25 years. That money then could be invested in high-tech weapons.
The report stated that part of the reason for the decision was a concern as to whether the Navy's carriers could avoid Chinese missiles in a future confrontation.
In an interview with 13News Now, Senator Tim Kaine (D), said, "The Pentagon just entered into a block buy to buy two carriers from the shipyard and you wouldn’t do that unless you were intending to maintain the 11 carrier Navy."
Tidewater Community College Business Professor Peter Shaw said if the Pentagon decides to nix USS Truman's overhaul, it would be devastating for the Hampton Roads economy.
"If you lose these key workers and they leave, then these local businesses - your diners, your supermarkets, some retailers - are going to feel a negative impact on them being gone," said Shaw.
Kaine said he and members of Congress plan on asking the Secretary of the Navy many questions during a hearing next week, given that law requires the Navy to have 11 carriers.
13News Now reached out to the Navy. A spokesman said that it could not comment on pending budgetary matters.
Congressman Rob Wittman, who serves on House Armed Services Committee, told 13News Now he was aware of the report by Breaking Defense. He said that he was "perplexed" by the claim that the Pentagon planned the Truman's early retirement. Wittman provided this statement:
Our aircraft carrier is the nation’s preeminent power projection platform. Keeping Refueling and Complex Overhauls (RCOH) on schedule and advanced procurement funded properly is critical to meeting combatant commander's demand for carrier strike groups. We have made a significant investment in these ships, and I am perplexed why anyone would consider taking the cornerstone of the United States Naval Force and allowing it to atrophy.
Senator Tim Kaine also released a statement about the report:
The Department of Defense just asked Congress for authorization to purchase two aircraft carriers at the same time in order to save taxpayer dollars and boost our Naval presence. It makes no sense for them to turn around and propose scuttling funding for another aircraft carrier that has over 20 years of service left. If these reports are true, DoD should expect a lot of questions from me about why they would even consider this mind-boggling proposal.
Huntington Ingalls Industries Media Relations Manager Duane Bourne said, "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."
"An RCOH is an extremely complex engineering and construction project which involves more than 680 suppliers from 40 states providing material and services critical to the overhaul process. The stability of this industrial base is critical to our ability to continue to build and maintain the Navy fleet our Navy and Nation needs," Bourne said.
If the Pentagon were to retire the Norfolk-based Truman early, it would have a significant impact on the Hampton Roads economy. One potential loss would involve work for Newport News Shipbuilding where workers are supposed to perform the carrier's midlife overhaul in 2024.
The typical lifespan of an aircraft carrier is 50 years.