For over six years, the 567-foot Vicksburg has been idle at a shipyard in Virginia, going through repairs that have cost the U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars. Still, the guided-missile cruiser probably might not ever have a chance to be back to sea. The Vicksburg is one of the 11 vessels the Navy is trying to retire but the members of Congress might not let the day come.
The Vicksburg’s costly and long ordeal reflects the Navy’s struggle to modernize its fleet as China seeks its naval supremacy in Pacific. A different vessel dubbed the USS Boise, a nuclear attack sub, has been under repair for eight years now.
Maurer’s office released a report in 2023 that found the Navy is spending more money repairing war vessels while its ships are spending less time at sea. From 2011 to 2020, operating along with support costs across 10 vessel classes grew by almost $2.5 billion, or about 17%. That included a $1.2 billion rise in maintenance costs – a jump of 24%, per the GAO report.
Maurer said that the rising costs of maintenance are due in part to the Navy’s having put off the upkeep of the ships when they were involved in combat in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mauer mentioned that the absence of spare parts as well as unfilled jobs contributes to vessels languishing at the shipyard ports.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro has further mentioned that they will keep reviewing the material conditions of the vessels, hull by hull, to make sure they extend the life of vessels, whenever possible.
Spending money continuously on legacy systems that don’t contribute to their advantage in a strategic competition is not an effective use of the taxpayers’ dollars, per Del Toro.
Every year, the Navy sends out to Congress a list of vessels that the officials wish to retire or decommission. In March 2023, the Navy submitted a list of 11 vessels it sought could retire, including USS Vicksburg.
This was not the first time USS Vicksburg was on the list. It had never been decommissioned due to opposition from many lawmakers.
Members of Congress object to a vessel’s retirement owing to the repair means jobs that need to be done at shipyards in their respective districts. Others oppose decommissioning for another cause: They want the Navy to maintain a high number of vessels in the fleet irrespective of their condition to deter China.
The Navy has a target of 355 vessels but has maintained 270 to about 300 battleforce vessels since 2003, per Congressional Research Service.
Most vessels on this year’s retirement list, like the SS Vicksburg, are over 30 years old. But two of the vessels are seven years old and belong to the Littoral Combat class, which has been criticized for wasteful spending by watchdogs.
The USS Vicksburg was launched in 1991.
While the Navy spent nearly $175 million on a deal with BAE System, which runs the Norfolk shipyard, to repair and modernize the USS Vicksburg, the cumulative cost of maintenance is much higher.
During a House Appropriations Committee hearing in 2022, Chair Kay Granger said that the Navy awarded a whopping $500 million as contracts for updating the USS Vicksburg. The Navy also says that the total cost covers various material procurements, availabilities, as well as advanced installations, but refused to disclose how much of the awarded money has been spent until now.
Despite years of continuing repairs, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., objects to decommissioning the USS Vicksburg. But he has finally said that he is resigned to the vessel’s fate.
A spokesperson associated with BAE Systems said in a statement that they continue working under a contract with the Navy to achieve the desired outcome for the Vicksburg.
Senators have also started to describe maintenance delays in dire terms.
References: nbcnews.com, Yahoo! News, newsbreak.com
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