Pentagon Drops Plan to Scrap Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier

Friday, 07 Feb 2014 03:24 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The Pentagon has abandoned plans to mothball the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington after the White House stepped in to prevent Democrats from potentially being labeled “weak on defense,” Time reports.

The U.S. Navy had planned to cut back their carrier fleet from 11 to 10 vessels as part of the sequestration spending cuts imposed by Congress.

But The Wall Street Journal reported that a bipartisan group of lawmakers had urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a letter last week to save what they claim is a potent symbol of American power.

Republican Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia said, “The aircraft carrier remains the centerpiece of American sea power and is fundamental to a national security policy based on forward deployed presence and power.”

And Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, also from Virginia, said, "A decision to go from an 11 to 10 carrier Navy would be seen by our allies and potential opponents around the globe as a kind of retrenchment that would not be helpful."

Time noted that the problem facing the Navy was whether it was worth spending $4.7 billion to refuel the nuclear reactor and refurbish the ship, which occurs once in a carrier’s estimated 50-year lifespan, when the vessel could be scrapped soon after. The George Washington is due for its midlife overhaul in 2016.

Last year, a review by Hagel on spending cuts to the military showed that U.S. could reduce its carrier fleet to eight or nine ships, which would still be as many as the number of carriers operated worldwide by seven other countries.

But Time says it eventually became clear to the Obama administration that Congress would fight plans to put the George Washington on the scrapheap while leaving Democrats vulnerable to charges from the GOP that it was “weak on defense” during the midterm elections.

Bryan Clark, a defense analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told the Journal that rather than retiring the George Washington 25 years early, it would be more cost effective to slow down the building of the Ford-class carriers, which require fewer crew members and can launch planes more quickly.

The U.S. Navy plans to launch one of these new carriers every five years, costing $13 billion each.

The George Washington costs $402 million a year - with $250 million paying for staffing -- which does not include the cost of servicing the carrier’s aircraft. The cost of putting the ship in mothballs would be $1.2 billion, says the Journal.

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