USS Port Royal (CG 73) undocks from Dry Dock 4 in 2009 at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. The USS Port Royal, along with the USS Lake Erie and the USS Chosin, is among 11 Navy cruisers that will be placed on reduced operating status while they are modernized. (Liane Nakahara / Navy)
HONOLULU — A 20-year-old guided-missile cruiser will join two other ships in “laid up” status at Pearl Harbor.
The USS Port Royal, along with the USS Lake Erie and the USS Chosin, is among 11 Navy cruisers that will be placed on reduced operating status while they are modernized, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.
The Navy has attempted to retire the Port Royal, the newest guided-missile cruiser in the Ticonderoga class, since it grounded in 2009 off Honolulu Airport’s Reef Runway, but Congress has resisted the move.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in February that 11 of 22 cruisers in the fleet would go on reduced operation status while they are modernized. He said the decision was part of the “difficult choices” the Pentagon faces under budget cuts.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in an April report the plan to halve the fleet includes putting the 11 newest cruisers into a long-term phased modernization plan, which is scheduled to start in 2015.
The upgraded cruisers would be returned to service on a one-to-one basis as older cruisers are retired. Under this plan, the Port Royal would return to active service in 2026 when the USS Chancellorsville retires. It will remain on active duty through 2044, 15 years longer than its expected life.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, is critical of the plan and expects Congress to oppose it.
She said the Navy is attempting to characterize ship reductions as modernizations.
Retirement of the cruisers, “which is what I expected the modernization to really mean, is going to be detrimental for us in the Pacific,” Hanabusa told the Star-Advertiser. “In addition, of course, we home-port three of them (at Pearl Harbor) and they are fine. There is nothing wrong with them. They’ve been repaired and they are functioning. So why do we want to do this?”
The Chosin just completed $107 million in major maintenance two years ago.
She said some of the funding for the war in Afghanistan can be redirected to the cruisers with the war winding down.
Navy spokesman Lt. Robert Myers said the service is “working closely with Congress on a proposal that preserves our readiness within a constrained fiscal environment.”
The GAO report specifically addresses the $1 billion, 567-foot Port Royal, which was commissioned in 1994.
The report says the Navy assumed the 2009 grounding created hidden maintenance problems. An upgrade at this point would be expensive, so the government report says the Navy decided to retire the ship.
Congress asked the GAO to review a report from the Navy on the warship, conducted last year. The GAO concurred with the Navy ‘s report that the material condition of the Port Royal is similar to other cruisers.
“GAO found that, in terms of its estimated service life and capabilities, the Port Royal has some advantages,” the report says. “The ship is the youngest cruiser in its class and has more service life remaining than any other cruiser. The Port Royal also has some key capabilities that many of the Navy’s other cruisers lack, including a ballistic missile defense capability that is highly sought after by combatant commanders.”
It’s just one of five cruisers with ballistic missile shoot-down capability.
The Navy overestimated the cost of the next modernization of the warship by $306 million and said the upgrade would cost $406 million, the report said.
“On the basis of current information, the Navy’s plan to decommission the Port Royal is not aligned with decommissioning requirements,” the GAO said.
The Navy then placed the ship in its phased modernization with the other newer cruisers, the GAO said.