NavWeek: Poker Faces

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I have to say, I like the U.S. Navy’s budget strategy for cruisers and carriers over the next few years.  Now it will be up to Congress to fold or call.

After years of thwarted attempts to remove aging and obsolete cruisers from its books, the Navy has essentially told Congress: “OK, you love these ships so much, you pay for them. We can’t.”

As for the carriers, the Navy’s message seems to follow a similar thread: “You want us to put so many carriers out there, to operate so many strike groups – you ante up boys.”

Look at the cruisers. Sure, on paper, they are capital ships – real national assets. But Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, is absolutely correct when he says that in their current shape, with equipment and gear now on them, the vessels are of limited use to the service.

The ships could represent an operational drag for what the Navy wants or plans to do, or worse, could put sailors and officers at real risk against some of the threats the cruisers would now have to face.

And the Navy is more than willing to fix up those ships and make them relevant, provided Congress finds the money to do so. In the meantime, the ships will stay on the books, remaining a part of the fleet in spirit, at least.

The situation is a bit more complicated when it comes to carriers. Sure, the Navy is required to keep 11 – but what really happens if that number drops to 10? There CAN BE waivers for such things, to allow for a small minimum fleet.

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In this case, the Navy says it will have to cancel the complete midlife overhaul of the CVN-73 George Washington and decommission the ship unless it gets more money.

Of course, Congress could decide instead to tell the Navy to cut or delay carrier construction on next-generation Ford-class ships and refuel the Washington and other older Nimitz-class carriers.

No one’s suggesting now that Congress would do that, but such a decision would certainly raise the stakes.

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