The U.S. Navy announced on Wednesday the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman would be retired from active duty sometime in the next several years, bringing the total number of operational aircraft carriers in the U.S. arsenal to ten. The Truman was expected to undergo a major overhaul operation in or around 2024, which included replacing the nuclear fuel used by the ship’s reactors. According to Breaking Defense, the retirement of Truman would effectively cut the service life of the ship in half.
The decision to skip the Truman’s RCOH (Refueling & Complex Overhaul) was part of the deal to fund two new carriers,” said Robert Work, former deputy secretary of defense from 2014-2017, while speaking to Breaking Defense. “We would end up with a smaller, but younger fleet. Secretary (Bob) Gates made a decision to move to five-year (gaps between carriers), which would ultimately result in a ten-carrier fleet around 2040. So we are still on that path.”
The retirement of Truman would save the Pentagon an estimated $30 billion dollars in RCOH and operational costs, although the savings would be spread out over many years. The money would be reallocated for research and development into new technology and for new, more advanced vessels. The Navy may also invest some of that money into developing aircraft with longer ranges that can be deployed from carriers outside the strike distance of anti-ship missiles, such as those possessed by Russia and China.
If the Navy continues to fail to invest in a new air wing that can do a long-range strike, then the government may decide to stop building carriers in order to free money for other platforms that would be more relevant for the threat environment” — such as smaller surface ships and unmanned craft — “in which case, stopping new construction would be the best path towards a draw down of the carrier force,” said retired U.S. Navy Captain and defense analyst Jerry Hendrix while speaking to Breaking Defense.