- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2014

The Navy is pushing back against a House Republican’s effort to quash the modernization of its missile cruiser fleet, essentially saying the benefits of the plan outweigh congressional concerns that the fleet will be diminished during the upgrades.

The planned improvements require the Navy to pull 11 of its 22 guided-missile cruisers and three other ships equipped with aircraft landing pads out of the water for mechanical and electrical upgrades so that their life span can be extended for more than 30 years.

But Rep. J. Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, argues that the 10-year phased modernization plan will leave the Pentagon with less military muscle to flex in the Pacific Ocean.

Mr. Forbes, Virginia Republican, amended the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill to deny the Navy the authority to pull more than two of the ships out of service for repairs.

“My amendment to the annual defense policy bill keeps these ships in service and assures that they receive their full service life,” Mr. Forbes said. “Keeping these ships in active service is essential as our Navy continues to shrink and the demand for their capabilities, like missile defense, grows.”

The Navy is fighting back.

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In a white paper obtained by The Washington Times, officials said the service “does not support the proposed language.” They note that the plan on the table would add 137 “ship years” to the U.S. fleet while saving $2.2 billion in operating and maintenance costs over the span of six years.

The pushback attracted the support of Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, who will be offering an amendment to reinstate the original modernization plan. The move comes as the full House is preparing to debate the version that contains Mr. Forbes‘ amendment and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are set to mark up their version of the bill.

The Navy in the past has expressed a preference to decommission the ships entirely but was thwarted by congressional lawmakers who have prevented them from being taken out of service.

Retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute, a nonprofit think tank that specializes in defense and security issues, said the Navy is pushing back now against the legislative language because the service “is stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

He noted that the Navy has concluded the ships have significant structural issues, and if they couldn’t decommission them outright officials had at least hoped to save money by temporarily taking them out of service for the upgrades.

A Navy official said the modernization plan was seen as a “thoughtful approach” to retaining the cruisers.

Should Mr. Forbes‘ language remain in the bill and be embraced by the Obama administration, then the Navy would have to find another way to save money while maintaining ships it sees as problematic, Adm. Daly said.

Consequentially, the service could be forced to cut corners in other areas where it cannot afford to cut corners, Adm. Daly said.

“We’ve been here before where people don’t want to let go of force structure and they don’t want to get the money to keep it and do it right,” he said.

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