Budget shortage blocks USS Russell's renovation

HONOLULU — The destroyer USS Russell has been replaced at Pearl Harbor by the destroyer USS Halsey in what's known as a "hull swap," but planned upgrades of the Russell that prompted the move are in jeopardy because of military-wide budget shortages, the Navy said.

The Russell left Pearl Harbor for the last time Jan. 3, and its Hawaii-based crew finished taking over the Halsey in San Diego in late January. The crew pulled into Pearl Harbor with the replacement destroyer last week.

Halsey's arrival at Pearl Harbor, a key location in the Navy's re-balance of forces to the Pacific, comes at a time of planned surface ship retirements here.

The Navy recently announced it was canceling at least 24 ship repair jobs across the country — the Russell among them — because Congress hasn't approved an appropriation bill for the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The Defense Department said it has operated at lower 2012 funding levels under a continuing resolution, leaving a budget shortfall for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The Navy said it was also canceling a $35 million repair of the destroyer USS Chafee at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

Sequestration, meanwhile, would force the military to make $500 billion in additional cuts through 2021 if Congress doesn't take any steps by March 1.

"With (the) continuing resolution and sequestration looming, the planned availability for USS Russell is in jeopardy," said Lt. Rick Chernitzer, a spokes­man for Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The Russell will conduct "a regular shipboard routine which includes performing daily maintenance, sustainment qualifications and conducting training for sailors," Chernitzer told the Star-Advertiser. "She will not get under way or conduct any operations until she has completed her midlife upgrades."

The $200 million modernization of the Russell had been planned for this fiscal year at Pearl Harbor, but because the work could be done for $35 million less in San Diego, the ship was moved there, officials said.

"We are glad to have Halsey home here in Hawaii, part of our (Middle Pacific) waterfront team, ready to operate forward," Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said in a release.

The Halsey and Russell hull swaps are permanent changes, officials said.

The Navy said the Halsey joins 10 other surface ships at Pearl Harbor, but the overall number is expected to drop. The Navy decommissioned the Pearl Harbor frigate Crommelin in October and plans to retire the frigate Reuben James in August.

Additionally, the Navy wants to retire the Pearl Harbor cruisers Port Royal and Chosin.

The Navy has 288 ships and wants to have 306 fleet-wide in the future.

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