Navy must ask Congress for $600M to fix damaged ships

Navy must ask Congress for $600M to fix damaged ships
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Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said Wednesday that the service will need to ask Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars to repair two combat ships destroyed in unexpected collisions this summer.

The Navy needs the damaged guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald back in the Pacific “as quick as we can,” requiring an estimated $600 million not included in the upcoming fiscal 2018 defense budget.

“We’re going to have to go back up on the Hill, because that’s outside budget numbers,” Spencer told reporters at the Pentagon. “It’s going to have to be sooner rather than later.”

The Senate this week passed its version of the FY-18 National Defense Authorization Act bills and now must hammer out a compromise bill with the House, which passed its defense legislation in July. Neither bill earmarked funds to repair the ships damaged in unexpected collisions.

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In June, the Fitzgerald collided with a container ship southwest of Japan, killing seven sailors.

Ten more sailors were killed on Aug. 20 when the McCain was struck by a Liberian oil tanker east of the straits of Malacca and Singapore.

Both incidents set off a series of reprimands and firings of top officials and several Navy-wide safety reviews and investigations.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Ad encourages GOP senator to vote 'no' on tax bill MORE (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday said the two Navy ship collisions cost America not only 17 sailors, but an estimated $600 million to repair the two destroyers.

“These preventable incidents also come with a very real price tag in terms of the cost of these to taxpayers,” the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said in a hearing with Navy leaders.

In the meantime, Navy leaders are rebalancing the Pacific fleet to make up for the two sidelined destroyers, as well as the out of commission USS Antietam cruiser. That ship ran aground while trying to anchor in Tokyo Bay in January. 

“I can’t tell you names but we are doing a little bit of a rebalance,” Spencer said. “Needless to say, we need to get McCain and Fitz back out there as quick as we can.”

Seven ships make up the Navy’s Seventh Fleet stationed in Japan. The vessels are part of the military's missile defense system.

Even with only four ships left in service, Spencer assured reporters the defense system still “works well with what we have. The matrix is there.” 

Spencer added that the Fitzgerald’s repair will take more than a year. A full assessment on McCain has yet to be completed, but he said the ship will be a quicker fix because the ship’s combat systems were not damaged in the collision.