PROCUREMENT BLUES: The U.S. Navy will start losing its largest surface combatants in 2020.
In 2020, the cruisers Mobile Bay and Bunker Hill will reach their service life of 35 years and are slated for decommissioning. But despite the age of the hulls, some observers are loathed to see the cruisers go, especially given that there is no immediate replacement for the 567-foot ship that bristles with 122 vertical launch missile tubes and two five-inch guns.
“I think the right idea is the put them in to a [service life extension program] and keep them in the fleet,” said Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and analyst with the Center for a New American Security. “It’s cheaper to do that than a new build.
“Furthermore you have 122 VLS tubes in there, and if you are replacing these with the [Arleigh Burke-class destroyers] you get a 25 percent decrease in the number of cells. We really need those tubes. We need the mass – we need the capacity.”
According to the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, the Navy will continue to have between 98 and 100 large surface combatants in the fleet during the years the cruisers are decommissioning. The Navy is systematically putting its newest 11 cruisers in layup to modernize them and extend their service life into the late 2030s. But a decommissioning schedule obtained by Defense News shows the oldest 11 cruisers will be out of the fleet by the end of 2026.
It’s going to be extremely difficult to enlarge the fleet at this rate.