Will three aircraft carriers be retired early?

The USS Enterprise’s decommissioning is already scheduled. The other carriers in the fleet were expected to be in service for at least another decade or so.

But a recent issue of Time Magazine says a lot of money could be saved by critically examining the Department of Defense’s budget. How to Save a Trillion Dollars advocates reducing the number of Aircraft carriers in the Navy’s fleet from 11 to 8.

On a damp, gray morning in late February, Navy admirals, U.S. Congress members and top officials of the nation’s biggest shipyard gathered in Norfolk, Va., to watch a computerized torch carve bevels into a slab of steel as thick as your fist.

The occasion: the ceremonial cutting of the first piece of a $15 billion aircraft carrier slated to weigh anchor in 2020. That ship — still unnamed — will follow the just-as-costly Gerald R. Ford, now 20% built and due to set sail in 2015.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China is putting the final touches on a new class of DF-21 missiles expressly designed to sink the Ford and its sister ship as well as their 5,000-person crews. China’s missiles, which will likely cost about $10 million each, could keep the Navy’s carriers so far away from Taiwan that the short-range aircraft they bear would be useless in any conflict over the tiny island’s fate.

Aircraft carriers, born in the years before World War II, are increasingly obsolete platforms of war. They feature expensive manned aircraft in an age when budgets are being squeezed and less expensive drones are taking over. …

Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last year of “the growing antiship capabilities of adversaries” before asking what in Navy circles had long been the unaskable question. “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

Last month the U.S. Naval Institute blog had a post about moving to smaller aircraft carriers: Must Every Carrier be a Supercarrier?

… But what really jumps out from Col Desens’ comments is the possibility that a smaller aircraft carrier with such a weapon as the F-35B could have efficacy as an alternative to the traditional supercarrier that has been the sole contestant in the US Navy’s aircraft carrier building arena since the commissioning of the Forrestals in the late 1950s. …

If the number of CVNs [nuclear aircraft carriers -JK] in commission shrinks to 9 or even 8 in the coming decade, which is a distinct possibility, we are left with a shortage of assets to cover a world-wide commitment.  When the question is asked again, as it will be, “Where are the carriers?”, there are two answers that we should take great pains to avoid.

USS Enterprise is already scheduled to be retired, and I assume that the USS Gerald R. Ford will be completed. To reduce the fleet to 8 carriers would require sending 3 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers to an early retirement.

If the Navy was told to remove three more carriers from their fleet, I’d guess they’d start with the ones that have not yet undergone a Refueling and Complex Overhaul (cost: $2.4billion or so). This maintenance is performed about 25 years into the carrier’s life. The Theodore Roosevelt started its RCOH procedure in 2009, and the Abraham Lincoln is next in line.

What would could be done with three “surplus” nuclear carriers? The last of the oil-powered carriers were put into the reserve fleet, where ships are held for potential reactivation. The Independence, Constellation, and Ranger are tied to the docs at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard:

Nuclear-powered ships can’t be treated this way, as the reactors require constant maintenance. The highly enriched uranium fuel is also rather problematic.

The professional navy people I’ve communicated with don’t like the idea of dedicating the USS Enterprise to disaster response. They give several reasons: it’s too old, it’s the only ship of its class, it’s a prototype that requires any number of unique parts ($$$), it was last refueled in 1990 and is now running low on atoms, etc.

If three Nimitz-class carriers were to be retired early, perhaps the politicians can order the Navy to tell them what would be involved in repurposing one or more of these ships.



6 thoughts on “Will three aircraft carriers be retired early?”

  1. I have a friend who is a Plank Owner on the USS Enterprise. Is there any protocol when the Ship is decommissioned for Plank Owners? Can they attend the decommissioning ceremony?

  2. We should look into donating or a lend Policy to put a few aircraft carrier under the UN control. they currently lack a large military muscle, leaving the US to project force to the likes of Somilia and west africa for regional problems, not to mention the Persian Gulf. If they had a carrier or three they could post there and unload this global stabilization burden from the US significantly. If they bad enough they offend the global Morality and International law then the UN would send their forces. a cost burden carried by the globe and also negating more the need or desire for countries like Iran to posture aginst the whole world, not to mention making their intervention in the Warlord Countries easier to implement from a larger force. dumb down the carriers from the High security electronics to international approved systems. refuel once and donate them, along with some standard aircraft they are able to support on the carriers. Such a effort will make a emense dent in our own long term threat defense policy by relieving a lot of these threat we react to thru the years, not ony by unloading the cost but also eliminateing the threats from occuring in the forst place. we can still assist as we need to help them as we have with the Libia matter. this will still leave us able to respond as we might need to what comes up in the future.. reduces as planned the carriers now and pumps up a good force to buffer us and our needs in the future at a neglable cost and right timing.

  3. I do not think they should draw down our Naval combat strength, that far, it would leave the US weakened, and unable influence world events, and help our allies if the need would arise.

  4. The ideal scenario here would be to retire the Nimitz early. Remove all secret and top secret equipment from the ship and refit it with UN equipment, then give the UN a renamed ship. Call it the UNAC (United Nations Aircraft Carrier) Hamony, that way the UN will actually have a little bit of muscle to provide support for UN missions that require a military presence.

  5. U.S. National Security Is Of Utmost Importance. But The Costs Involved With Building, Operating, Maintaining, aand Refueling A Nuclear Power Aircraft Carrier Is Enormous And Staggering.
    The Refueling Costs Of The USS George Washington Are In The Billions Of Dollars For A Ship Nearing It’s Structural Half-Life.
    If Not For The Retirement Of The Navy’s Oldest Nuclear Carrier, The CVN-65 Which Reduces The Number Of Aircraft Carriers In The Navy While It Is Being Retired And Dismantled, I Would Agree That The George Washington Simply Be Retired And Placed Into Protected Storage.
    The CVN-65 Had Undergone A $ 600 Million Dollar Refurbishment A Year Of Two Before It’s Deactivation. The Money Spent On Fixing The Ship Up To Only Keep It In Service For Roughly A Year Before It Was Retired Was A Huge Waste Of The Taxpayers Money.
    The CVN-65 Should Simply Have Been Put On Limited Duty And Operated Without The Overhaul And Simply Been Kept Around 18 More Months And Then It Should Have Been Retired Thus Being Available For US National Security Interests While Helping To Protect America While Bringing Us Closer To 2015 When It’s Replacement, The USS Gerald R. Ford Will Be Entering Service.
    After All The Money Spent On Upgrafing And Maintaining And Now Dismantling The CVN-65, The General Public Don’t Even Get To Have The Ship Even As A Source Of Electrical Energy For A Small Coastal City Using Whatever Fuel Is Left In It’s Nuclear Reactors. The Ship Won’t Even Be Able To Be Kept As A Museum Ship Because Of All The Demolition Work On It As She Is Cut Apart So It’s Atomic Reactors Are Removed From The Ship For Disposal.
    What A Collosal Waste Of The Taxpayers Money.
    The Navy’s Older And Now Mothballed Oil Burning Aircraft Carriers Should Be Looked At And It Should Be Determined If They Can Be Put Back Into Service As Support Aircraft Carriers. The Purpose Of A Support Carrier In This Day And Age Would Be To Carry Mostly Drone Aircraft, Support Aircraft, Additional Helicopters , Rescue Apparatus, Missile Launchers, And An Additional Fighter Jet Squadron To Supplement The Role Of The Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carriers Currently In Service. The Nimitz Class Carriers In Service Now Would Be Freed For More Attack And Outgoing Defense Matters While Lesser And Just As Important Support Duties Are Carried Out By The Reactivated Oil Burning Aircraft Carriers Which Would Be Providing An All New Support Function.
    The Nimitz Class Ships Would Use Less Atomic Fuel And Have More Tactical Data Transmitted To Them From The Additional Numbers Of Drone Aircraft Being Carried And Deployed By A Support Aircraft Carrier Operating As Part Of The Tactical Group Of Warships.
    It Would Be A Wise National Defense Issue And A Tactical Bonus As Well As A Huge Economical Savings To Have A Number Of Oil Burning Aircraft Carriers In The Fleet As Opposed To The Costs Of Building , Operating, Maintaining, And Eventually Refueling & Storing Such A Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carrier While Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars Are Spent Taking Each One Apart Lastly As They Are Scrapped After They Are Decommissioned.
    The Oil Burning Aircraft Carriers That Are Just Sitting In The Reserve Mothball Fleet Should All Be Looked At For The Purpose Of Reactivation.

  6. Retired Supercarriers should be pulled out of Mothballs and Modernised.
    A Few Of The Iowa Class Battleships Should Be Pulled Also Oit Of Storage and put back into Service.
    Both of these types of ships would augment and serve in support capacities for the Current Nimitz Class and upcoming
    Gerald R. Ford Class Aircraft Carriers.
    At least one or two Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers can be pulled out of Service and put into Storage thus reducing the Military Budget and reserving these great ship’s lifetimes as they won’t be in use for a long period of time untill they are really needed.
    Retiring a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier and replacing it with 2 to 4 Conventional Aircraft Carriers that won’t require an expensive refueling cycle that will take an Atomic Aircraft Carrier out of service for 2 or 3 years at a time would make sense moneywise . It would also help maintain National Security at a higher level because they don’t have to replace a Nuclear Fuel Supply and Nuclear Reactors and pull and rebuild a substantial part of the ship.
    New Conventionally Powered Aircraft Carriers can be eventually designed and built from Scratch.

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