House halts early ship retirements

Members of the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee directed the Navy to retain three of the four cruisers that service leaders planned to pull from the force ahead of schedule. 

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One ship, the USS Port Royal, will be allowed to retire early, according to the subcommittee's draft version of the fiscal 2013 bill. 

The draft bill would also require the Navy "to maintain the operational capability and perform the necessary maintenance of the cruisers and dock landing ships in support of operational requirements of the combatant commands," according to subpanel members. 

The Navy planned to move a total of seven cruisers out of the service arsenal early over the next two years. Four ships were set to come out in fiscal 2013 with the remaining three coming off the line in fiscal 2014. 

The Navy had lobbied against including the cuts in the service's fiscal plan submitted to Congress in February. 

"We didn't particularly want to do that," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters at the Navy League's annual symposium in Maryland on April 16. 

The cost to upgrade those seven ships ships and keep them in the fleet totaled out to $4.1 billion, Vice Adm. Terry Blake, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told House lawmakers in March. 

But the decision to trim more than $500 billion from Pentagon coffers over the next decade put the Navy "in a universe of bad decisions," Mabus said at the time. 

Of the cost-cutting options available to service leaders, early ship retirements was "the best choice we [had] to make," he said. However, House defense subcommittee members thought otherwise. 

House lawmakers could only afford to salvage three of the four cruisers set for retirement in their version of the defense bill, full committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday. 

Defense authorizers had to consider all the costs associated with keeping those vessels afloat, not just the price to modernize those warships, McKeon explained. 

Costs associated with maintaining a full Navy crew aboard those ships and making sure the ships are properly maintained throughout the vessel's service life all had to be considered, he said. 

House lawmakers could have included funds to upgrade all seven cruisers and spare them from early retirement, McKeon said. But, those ships would just end up sitting dormant at the Navy's docks, he said, because there would be no money to maintain and man those ships.