US President Donald Trump wants a 355-ship fleet; the US Navy wants to trim its budget of ships its doesn’t need. The two visions have collided once again over the aircraft carrier USS Truman, a ship that just can’t seem to stay out of the repair docks.
According to a memo last month from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the Pentagon, the Trump administration pushed back for a second time on the Navy’s attempts to retire the Truman early.
"The Navy's [budget submission] does not refuel the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN-75) or maintain its associated air wing," the OMB memo reads, according to a Monday report by Defense News, which obtained the memo. The outlet noted the White House instructed the Department of Defense to provide a carrier refueling plan for the next 30 years that "includes the USS HARRY S. TRUMAN."
The plan called for cancelling the mid-life refueling of the nuclear-powered carrier, which would have amounted to halving the ship’s lifespan, forcing it to retire in the next few years.
According to Defense News, the memo reveals a drastic plan by US Navy leaders to cut their budget by billions of dollars. Rather than increase the fleet by nearly 70 ships, the plan would reduce it by six, to 287 boats by 2025.
Some of the other cuts proposed by the Navy include a 42% reduction in planned Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and halving the number of Virginia-class submarines and FFG(X) missile frigates to be built each year. The Navy also envisioned accelerating the retirement of four cruisers as well as cancelling the mid-life, service-extending repairs on older Ticonderoga-class cruisers, just as it has tried to do to the 21-year-old Truman. The proposal also involved the early retirement of three of the Navy’s amphibious landing docks and four of its new littoral combat ships, for which it has struggled to find use.
The Navy’s first attempt to retire the Truman early got significant pushback from both the White House and Capitol Hill, where it encountered bipartisan resistance. Trump formally overrode the decision in April, shortly after the Department of Defense signed the contract for a double-buy of the problematic Ford-class ships that will replace Nimitz-class carriers like the Truman. That plan envisioned phasing the Truman out of the fleet by 2025.
The Navy’s future plan has proven capricious, however, with the newly minted US Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly directly contradicting his predecessor, Richard Spencer, by pledging the service would hit the Trump administration’s 355-ship fleet target by 2030. Spencer had previously called the goal “aspirational,” but sought instead to buttress the reliability of the Navy’s existing fleet. Spencer departed the secretariat late last month amid sharp disagreement with the Trump administration over the president’s decision to pardon a Navy SEAL convicted of war crimes.
A previous force assessment in 2016 by the Navy affirmed the need for a 12-carrier fleet in order to meet US foreign policy goals around the globe.