Mabus Says Not Enough Funding to Comply with Congressional Cruiser Plan
A House Armed Services Committee plan to cut the Navy's cruiser modernization period in half will not work with the funding currently available, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said April 30.
The new plan proposed by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and approved by the committee, would reduce the amount of time a cruiser can be laid up for modernization work. The current Navy schedule, referred to as the two-four-six plan, allows for two cruisers per year to be placed into a long-term phase modernization period, with the work period lasting no more than four years. There are no more than six cruisers being refurbished at any given time. The new plan would reduce the work period from four to two years.
Mabus said the Navy would not be able to afford upgrading its cruisers under Congress' proposal.
"I'm willing to accept any sort of mandatory language that says we've got to do this, but … if we do it piecemeal, we're not going to have enough money to do all the modernization," said Mabus, following a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "They're going to have to come up with more money to modernize the rest of the cruisers."
Cutting the modernization period in half would mean missing out on crew and operating expense reductions generated while the vessels are temporarily out of service, he said. The loss of these savings means that the funding set aside for modernization will not add up, he said.
The Navy was planning on using the ship modernization, operations and sustainment fund for the upgrades, Mabus said. There won't be enough money in that account under Forbes' plan, he added.
He also said the new plan gives the Navy less flexibility to determine how the vessels should be used. "I really think it's a matter of just not quite trusting us," he said.
Forbes has publicly challenged the Navy's commitment to keeping all its cruisers afloat saying that it wouldn't execute the modernizations if Congress didn't pressure it. Mabus said the service is 100 percent committed to the program even if that was not the case three or four years ago, acknowledging that the Navy submitted budgets in the past decommissioning some of the vessels.
"I'm all about building ships and keeping ships in the fleet," he said, adding that there are other mandates Congress could make that would be more effective. "Mandate us to buy all of the modernization stuff with the exception of electronics — because that's going to change so much — upfront. Mandate that we sign contracts … that would cost us money if we backed out of them. There are ways to do this."
Congress' fears regarding decommissioning cruisers are misplaced, he said. "They will never go out of commission and if we needed to put them back to sea — except for the ones in deep modernization — we could."
The Navy will continue to work with Congress to resolve the issue, Mabus said. "We thought we came up with the best plan to keep the most cruisers in, for the longest time, at the most affordable way, but obviously they get the last word."