U.S.S. George Washington Gains Attn as Possible Budget Casualty

(Stars and Stripes)   Could the USS George Washington be sunk by budget cuts?

A report in Defense News last week, citing anonymous sources, said naval officials are considering decommissioning the nuclear aircraft carrier decades before the end of its scheduled lifespan.

That’s the second time in a week the 25-year-old behemoth has been mentioned as a potential fiscal casualty. In budget analysis released Tuesday, officials from the Center for New American Security, a Washington, D.C., think tank with close ties to President Obama, listed the early decommissioning of the ship as a way to save up to $7 billion over the next decade.

Navy officials refused to directly comment on the idea.

“Until the 2013 president’s budget request is submitted to Congress in February 2012 … it would be inappropriate to discuss specific details,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Courtney Hillson said.

The idea of shelving the ship, based in Yokosuka, Japan, has been mentioned by lawmakers and budget experts in the last few months, as Congress struggles to find billions in savings to help balance the federal budget.

In 2016, the George Washington is scheduled to begin a three-year refueling overhaul expected to cost more than $200 million. While decommissioning the carrier would also cost money, the CNAS report estimates that the overall savings would outweigh those short-term costs, and the associated risk to military readiness would be “significant but acceptable.”

In July, House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes, R-Va., blasted rumored plans to delay purchase of a new aircraft carrier for several years, out of budget concerns. He also confronted Navy officials on whether other cost-cutting carrier moves were under consideration, but received no specifics.

Currently, the Navy is mandated by law to maintain an 11-carrier fleet, so any move to decommission the George Washington would require cooperation from lawmakers.

Nimitz-class aircraft carriers like the George Washington were built to operate more than 50 years and typically cost more than $30 billion over that lifespan in construction, maintenance and staffing.

And Navy budget officials have announced that in other cases, ships will be kept in use past their scheduled retirement dates, because that will cost less than purchase of new ones.

For example, the Japan-based USS Blue Ridge and Italy-based USS Mount Whitney, both with more than 40 years in service, will be in kept active until at least 2029, and the Navy is developing plans to see if they can be used for another decade after that.


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