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USS Harry S. Truman will not be retired ahead of schedule, Pence says

A P-8A Poseidon over USS Harry S. Truman. (U.S. Navy/Released)

The Trump administration is dropping its pitch to mothball the USS Harry S. Truman at its midlife point.

Vice President Mike Pence made the announcement Tuesday during an all-hands call aboard the Truman at Naval Station Norfolk.

“We are keeping the best carrier in the world in the fight. We are not retiring the Truman,” Pence said, adding: “The USS Harry S. Truman is going to be giving ’em hell for many more years to come.”

That phrase — “give ’em hell” — is a reference to the carrier’s battle cry. Pence’s announcement, amid weeks of debate over the future of the carrier, was met with cheers from hundreds of sailors. A Pentagon budget proposal called for retiring the Truman halfway through its intended 50-year service life by skipping its mid-life refueling, scheduled to begin in 2024. By bypassing that overhaul, the Navy estimated it would save about $3.4 billion, money that it could reinvest elsewhere.

That trade-off would have run counter to the Trump administration’s plans to bulk-up the size of the Navy fleet to an eventual 355 ships. It would also reduce the carrier fleet from 11 to 10 — a course reversal from 2017, when Trump visited Newport News Shipbuilding and called for a 12-carrier fleet aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford. Federal law also states that the Navy must keep no less than 11 operational aircraft carriers. The Navy’s own force assessment in 2016 included a requirement for 12.

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The proposal to retire Truman early, which came amid a deal to purchase two-carriers at once, was strongly opposed by Hampton Roads lawmakers. Sen. Mark Warner called the original plan a “budget gimmick” in a tweet.

“While I am glad the administration ultimately reconsidered this terrible idea, the incoherence here has not been good for morale or defense planning,” Warner wrote.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the decision was the “right call for our national security.”

Rep. Elaine Luria, who served two years on Truman and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that retiring Truman early would have been “an awful decision for Hampton Roads and America.”

The fallout from cancelling Truman’s refueling, a four-year process called RCOH, would not only be felt at the Newport News shipyard but across the thousands of businesses that supply the shipbuilder across the nation. As the sole designer and builder of nuclear-powered carriers for the Navy, it is also the only shipyard capable of handling the RCOH.

Pence told reporters following the all-hands call that he met with Trump at the White House Tuesday morning. Trump “made the decision on the spot” after the two discussed the Truman and its sailors’ contributions to the Navy, Pence said.

“The budget is always a deliberative process,” Pence said. “People bring their best ideas forward. This is a president who committed our administration to rebuilding our military after years of budget cuts in the last administration.”

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Truman and its crew set a record for dropping bombs against the Islamic State during its 2016 deployment and, last fall, became the first carrier in nearly three decades to operate in the Arctic Circle as a show of force to Russia.

Word of Trump’s change of course did not appear to reach a Capitol Hill hearing early Tuesday, where a lawmaker asked Vice Chief of Naval Operations Bill Moran about the retirement.

Moran, in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to lead the Navy as its next CNO, defended the decision to retire Truman early. Freeing up space in the budget would allow the Navy to invest in next-generation capabilities, including unmanned systems. The Truman is “a big bill” over the near term.

“By looking at (Truman) as a way to offset these requirements and investments that we wanted to make, that’s where this decision came from,” Moran said.

A spokesperson for Moran could not be immediately reached by email Tuesday afternoon.

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© 2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.