the persistent danger of global terrorism,” Forbes said.
Today’s fleet stands at 10 carriers, but will return to the congressionally mandated 11 ships once
the first of the new Ford carriers is
ready for operations in early 2016.
While it is unclear whether the
Navy actually will recommend a
cut to the carrier fleet in its fiscal
2015 request, service officials have
suggested that it is at least one possibility under consideration as they
grapple with tighter budgets.
In written testimony to Congress in September, Chief of Naval
Operations ADM Jonathan W.
Greenert acknowledged a carrier
fleet of nine or 10 ships may be
more realistic given the current
budget environment. Such a
change, however, would come with
strategic consequences, making
the Navy a one-war force, Greenert
said at the time.
The pre-emptive strike at a
potential cut to carriers signals that
it will be a priority for the committee, which has repeatedly backed
maintaining a large carrier fleet
despite the costs.
Perhaps more importantly, however, it underscores what is at stake
as the negotiations on the fiscal
2015 budget get under way in
earnest this month.
A bipartisan budget deal late last
year gave the Department of Defense (DoD) some relief from
across-the-board sequester cuts,
the department’s worst-case spending scenario. Nonetheless, the
Pentagon still must trim more than
$40 billion from its anticipated
budget for fiscal 2015 to stay within the congressionally mandated
spending caps. If there is no relief
from the budget caps for future
years, similar cuts to projections
will be required over the next several years.
“Eventually, DoD and Congress
are going to have to deal with this
issue that we can’t afford a carrier
fleet of 11, that it’s not something
we can sustain in this budget envi-
ronment,” said Todd Harrison,
senior fellow, Defense Budget
Studies, at the Center for Strategic
and Budgetary Assessments in
Washington. “So we’re going to
have to take reductions. If you
don’t want to take it out of carri-
ers, you have to take it out of
Harrison recently led an effort by
four think tanks to prepare options
for the Defense Department as its
budgets stagnate. All four think
tanks, which spanned the political
spectrum, recommended reducing
the number of aircraft carriers in
the Navy fleet, a clear indication
that the vessels are low-hanging
fruit for cost-cutters.
The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning group,
recommended cutting four carriers,
while the more liberal Center for
New American Security recommended cutting just two. Harrison’s
outfit similarly suggested a two-carrier cut, while the Center for
Strategic and International Studies
recommended reducing the carrier
fleet by three.
Harrison said he believes the
Navy can make better use of the
carriers it has, including forward
stationing another carrier. Another
option could be changing the mix
of aircraft parked on the carrier to
make it both more effective and
more relevant in the future.
In short, Harrison said the Navy
could reduce the size of the fleet to
nine carriers but nonetheless make
it a more capable force.
The size of the carrier fleet also
came up in a report released in
September by the nonpartisan
Stimson Center, which recommended the Navy temporarily dip
to nine carriers now and then permanently maintain a fleet of 10.
The savings add up to $2 billion or
more annually, according to the
report, which was signed by sever-
al former military leaders, includ-
ing retired ADM Gary Roughead,
former chief of naval operations.
The arguments for reducing the
carrier fleet, however, will likely be a
tough sell on Capitol Hill, where
many lawmakers consider carriers
the crown jewel of the military’s arse-
nal and a signal to the rest of the
world of U.S. military might. Sup-
porters claim carriers also are indis-
pensable to the United States’ ability
to project power around the world.
In their letter to Hagel, the lawmakers insisted that the United
States lives in a “15-carrier world”
and cannot afford any more reductions to the fleet.
“There is no doubt that there is
enduring bipartisan support for a
robust Navy supporting a capital
fleet of 11 nuclear aircraft carriers,” the House lawmakers wrote.
The Navy is investigating allegations that senior enlisted Sailors at
the Charleston Nuclear Power
Training Unit, S.C., cheated on
written qualification exams, service leaders said Feb. 4.
The Sailors are staff at the school
who must pass qualification tests to
instruct students on nuclear propulsion reactor training.
“To say that I’m disappointed
would be an understatement,”
Greenert told reporters at the
Pentagon. “Whenever I hear about
integrity issues, it’s disruptive to
our units’ success and it’s definitely
contrary to all of our core values.”
About 30 senior instructors
were suspended after a Sailor
reported the issue to Navy leaders.
The incident comes on the heels
of a similar cheating scandal involving 92 Airmen at Malmstrom
Air Force Base, Mont., who have
been accused of sharing answers
on monthly proficiency exams for
their work on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG SEAPOWER / MARCH 2014