US Navy wants to get rid of an aircraft carrier to buy new weapons needed for a next-level fight with China

USS Harry Truman

  • The Department of Defense's proposed $718 billion budget for fiscal year 2020 includes plans to retire an aircraft carrier decades early.
  • The controversial move would free up funds to develop and field new weapons that will be more survivable in a high-end fight against a tough adversary like China or Russia.
  • The decision to retire an aircraft carrier is certain to face pushback from Congress.

The US Navy plans to retire one of its aircraft carriers decades early, a highly controversial move to free up funds for the new weapons needed to fight a powerful adversary.

"We made the difficult decision to retire CVN 75 (USS Harry S. Truman) in lieu of its previously funded refueling complex overhaul that was scheduled to occur in FY 2024," the Navy said in an overview of the fiscal year 2020 budget released Tuesday, referring to the refueling the carrier with new reactor cores.Advertisement

The purpose is to free up funding for new weapons that are more likely to survive were the US to go to war with China, a senior defense official told Breaking Defense, which first broke the story about the Pentagon's plans to mothball the Truman.

Read More: US aircraft carrier fleet set to shrink as Pentagon reportedly decides to retire USS Truman 2 decades early

The decision to retire the Truman decades early, which reportedly came from Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan, "is in concert with the Defense Department's commitment to proactively pursue diversified investments in next-generation, advanced, and distributed capabilities," the Navy said, noting it would be looking into both manned and unmanned systems.

"This approach pursues a balance of high-end, survivable manned platforms with a greater number of complementary, more affordable, potentially more cost-imposing, and attritable options," the service added.

Nonetheless, the Navy still intends to move forward with its planned purchase of two more Ford-class aircraft carriers.
uss harry truman

While aircraft carriers have long been beacons of American military might, they are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Carriers remain difficult to kill, but near-peer adversaries are developing weapons capable of knocking them out of the fight at long range.

Read More: US aircraft carriers are the world's most powerful ships and are nearly impossible to kill - here's why

Naval experts say that US carriers now need to operate at least 1,000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland to keep out of range of China's precision anti-ship missiles, according to USNI News. That puts carrier-based fighters out of range for attacks on mainland command and control centers.Advertisement

Read More: The US has been getting 'its ass handed to it' in war games simulating fights against Russia and China

The US Navy is turning its attention away from traditional capabilities to robotic vessels, such as unmanned scout ships to conduct surveillance and draw enemy fire and unmanned missile boats to fire on targets identified by the robotic scout vessels, Breaking Defense reported.

The loss of an unmanned platform is nothing compared to damage to a Nimitz-class supercarrier loaded with bombs, an air wing of about 60 aircraft, two nuclear reactors - and roughly 5,000 sailors on board.Advertisement

The entire US military is investing more heavily in long-range, precision fires - missiles and artillery - to punch holes in contested battlespaces.

Read More: The US Army wants a powerful cannon that can hit Chinese warships in the South China Sea from 1,000 miles away

Commenting on the Department of Defense's proposed $718 budget for fiscal year 2020, Shanahan stated that "this budget will strongly position the US military for great power competition for decades to come." The budget is expected to face pushback from Congress.Advertisement

After all, there is a strong possibility the USS Harry S. Truman, like the USS George Washington before it, is a bargaining chip in the Defense Department's effort to secure additional funding from Congress.

Read More: The Pentagon wants to retire an aircraft carrier decades early, but Congress says that's not going to happen