Navy delays Lincoln refueling and overhaul, citing lack of funding
By Michael Welles Shapiro | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: February 8, 2013
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Navy said it postponing Newport News Shipbuilding's long-planned refueling and complex overhaul of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln Friday afternoon.
Citing "a lack of funding," Lt. Courtney Hillson, a Navy spokeswoman, said in a statement that the "Lincoln will remain at Naval Station Norfolk," until money is funneled to the project through one of two budgetary mechanisms.
For the time being, Hillson said, "The Lincoln will remain pierside at its homeport while ship's Sailors continue to conduct maintenance."
And she added that the decision could have a domino effect on other Newport News carrier maintenance projects because the shipyard will have to rearrange its dry dock schedule. Specifically, she predicted "impacts to the recently inactivated Enterprise defueling and the start of USS George Washington's RCOH."
Shipyard spokeswoman Christie Miller stressed that the Lincoln overhaul was not canceled.
"We continue to actively negotiate the Lincoln RCOH contract with the Navy, and we intend to continue our efforts on the ship at the Navy base in Norfolk and will work to make as much progress as possible, as efficiently as possible, prior to its arrival," Miller said.
"While we continue to work hard to find a resolution, any delay in Lincoln's arrival will clearly impact the efficiency of the original plan, and as the Navy has communicated, affect other carrier maintenance and the fleet's future operational readiness in the defense of America."
In the weeks leading up to the postponement decision, Pentagon officials have said they were looking for areas to cut because they were not prepared to operate under a continuing resolution that froze defense spending at 2012 levels.
The size and scope of the four-year overhaul makes the deferred refueling and complex overhaul, or RCOH, a large target. It also makes it the latest in a string of drastic money saving measures.
The Pentagon also recently postponed indefinitely its deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman.
But the Lincoln overhaul is the first large shipyard project to get shuffled around to save money.
"(T)his reduction would significantly impact thousands of skilled shipyard workers, who have labored to develop their skills and will represent a blow to the future capabilities of Newport News to deliver timely and cost effective ships to the fleet," said U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, who first announced the Navy's decision.
Miller had said as recently as Thursday that workers were making preparations under the assumption that a contract would be finalized. The potential for a delay was reported in Friday's Daily Press.
Carrier RCOHs are intricate projects that add up to billions of dollars in revenue for Huntington Ingalls Industries the parent company of the shipyard, which is also the nation's only manufacturer of new aircraft carriers.
The overhauls involve refueling a carrier's reactors, performing repairs and upgrading its systems after more than two decades of wear and tear. The Lincoln, which until August had been stationed at Naval Station Everett, Wash., was commissioned in November 1989.
The original contract for the ongoing RCOH of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was worth $2.43 billion, and contract modifications have increased the overall price tag to $2.59 billion.
Deferring the Lincoln overhaul helps the Pentagon stay within a 2012 budget allocation, and top Navy officials have identified a number of upcoming shipbuilding and ship repair projects not finalized through contracts as possible targets.
The Navy's reaction to the lower budget amount has "essentially cancelled all 3rd and 4th quarter (maintenance) availabilities," said retired Rear Adm. Joe Carnevale, referring to the six-month period starting in April.
Carnevale, a senior defense advisor with the Shipbuilders Council of America, said the impacts of the delayed projects would be devastating for the industry and especially smaller repair yards and contractors.
"There are many small businesses that won't be able to survey a 6-month hiatus," he said.
Another senior defense advisor with the council, Ashley Godwin, said that so far the preparation work for the Lincoln has been funded in a piecemeal fashion.
The shipyard has received about $700 million for advance planning in four installments, according to a Department of Defense website.
Godwin said it's possible the Navy could find just enough money to get the overhaul started, rather than signing a more comprehensive contract covering the four years overhauls traditionally take.
U.S. sailors man the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as it arrives for a scheduled port visit at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Aug. 4, 2012. Lincoln was en route to Norfolk, Va., to complete a change of home port following an eight-month deployment in the U.S. 5th, U.S. 6th and U.S. 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.
Salt Cebe/U.S. Navy