The Pentagon’s new Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday is expected to face a challenge ahead in assuring the long-term viability of aircraft carriers as DOD’s most expensive and strategically invaluable assets, Defense News reported Tuesday.
Gilday, who was easily confirmed for the Navy’s top post by the Senate last week, addressed tough questioning from lawmakers who raised concerns that the rising costs and increasing vulnerability of aircraft carriers will be among the top challenges when he formally takes command later this month.
As the Navy’s primary power projection platform, the viability of carriers became a topic of extended discussion during Gilday’s confirmation hearing, according to the report. Lawmakers focused on threats posed by advanced Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles, as well as emphasizing the significant delays and cost overruns of the newest carrier USS Ford.
During the hearing, Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Gilday the Navy’s arrogance on the technology behind the USS Ford “ought to be criminal,” according to the report.
Inhofe does not oppose carriers and has repeatedly emphasized to the Trump administration the Navy’s requirement to maintain 11 flattops around the globe, the report said. He was also in the bipartisan group of lawmakers who opposed DOD’s request to trim costs by decommissioning the USS Truman before the administration blocked the plan this spring.
However, Inhofe said he plans to watch the Navy closely, stressing that he would work to counter the kind of bureaucratic issues that have plagued the Ford.
“The Navy entered into this contract in 2008, which, combined with other contracts, have ballooned the cost of the ship more than $13 billion without understanding the technical risks, the costs or the schedules, and you know this ought to be criminal,” Inhofe said during Gilday’s hearing.
Committee member Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has focused on concerns about advance missile threats to the future of carriers, emphasizing hypersonic missiles are an existential threat to carriers.
King, whose state is where half the Navy’s destroyers are built, told Defense News he’s concerned about the long-term viability of aircraft carriers in a world with hypersonic missiles.
“I think it does raise a question of the role of the aircraft carrier if we cannot figure a way to counter this capability,” he said. “I don’t want indefensible, $12 billion sitting ducks out there. I’m not prepared to say the carrier is obsolete, but I say that this weapon undermines the viability of the carrier.”
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Marissa Bacon