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In Battle Over Decommissioning, US Navy Highlights Fleet's Weak Points

Vicksburg
The cruiser USS Vicksburg (above) is on the wish list for decommissioning (USN)

Published Mar 20, 2023 11:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

It's rare to hear the leaders of a major naval power give a detailed accounting of their fleet's weakest points, but the U.S. Navy's top leaders are doing just that as they petition Congress to retire the service's least battle-worthy vessels. 

According to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday, the oldest amphibs and cruisers in commission are consuming maintenance funds while delivering little in the way of deployable warfighting capacity. Their solution: decommission nearly a dozen warships next year, including five cruisers, three amphibs, two Independence-class LCS and one submarine. The plan is controversial in Congress, especially as it will shrink the amphibious fleet in the near term - but the Navy's leaders say that it is essential to focus scarce resources on capable hulls. 

"Look, you want to reduce maintenance delays and get the best bang for your buck for the American taxpayer? Well then get rid of those old ships that have been sitting in shipyards for up to three or four years," said Secretary Del Toro at the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference. "As you open them up, you discover even more problem sets with them . . . [because] we've operated the living hell out of these ships. Proudly so. It's time to divest of them."

As an illustration, Del Toro said that on a recent visit to the amphib USS Germantown, he found that the ship's crane has been broken for six years. Her wooden well deck - the only wood-covered well deck left in the amphib fleet - is starting to break through. "Do you know how much it would cost to replace that wood deck? I don't know either, but I know it's a lot of money. And . . . what am I going to get out of that? Another year of operation?" he asked a reporter.

In a separate address, CNO Adm. Michael Gilday laid out the challenges facing the cruiser fleet, which the Navy has been pushing to downsize for years with limited success. Keeping them going is not a modernization problem, Gilday said - it's a structural problem, in the most literal sense. 

"Its’ the hull. It’s the deckhouse. It’s the structural members of the ship. That’s really where the challenge is," Gilday said, as reported by USNI. "For cruisers as an example, I’m pulling them into Souda Bay, Crete or I’m pulling them into Djibouti during deployment to fix holes in the ship below the water line. I got water going into berthing compartments."

Some of these vessels are so challenging to repair or of so little use that they would not be deployed in wartime, he said. "Ships need to be workable and they need to be usable. So those ships that aren’t either – usable or workable – I might be able to replace those with something that’s a little bit more agile," Gilday concluded.