Aging Carrier, New Attack Plane Spur Outpouring of Congress Love

  • Virginia delegation is trying to block retirement of carrier
  • Alabama lawmakers eye $2.6 billion hypersonic weapons plan

The Navy’s decision to scrap refueling of the aircraft carrier USS Truman has high-profile Virginia lawmakers up in arms, preparing to try to reverse a decision they view as strategically and financially irresponsible.

The retirement of the USS Truman after 25 years of service instead of the expected 50 also means potential job losses for Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. which is charged with the nuclear refueling of these vessels based in Norfolk, Va.

About 4,000 shipbuilders work on a typical aircraft carrier refueling and overhaul, according to Huntington Ingalls spokeswoman Beci Brenton.

The Navy’s plans gave voice to a familiar, yearly refrain from Congress where parochial interests meet the defense industrial complex and fear of a weakened national security usually trumps any spending restraint. Even in an era where a record $750 billion national security budget request would seem to ease competition for resources, there are several areas, including the Truman, that could be legislative flashpoints ahead.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley
USS Harry S. Truman

The company would have to cut what it buys and orders from its supplier base, estimated at 680 companies spread over 40 states, and that “will drive costs significantly higher on several Navy shipbuilding and maintenance programs,” Huntington’s Brenton said in an emailed statement.

“We will stay fully engaged with our customer and Congress as the process unfolds to ensure there is a greater understanding of the negative impacts of the cancelation,” she said.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Seapower panel, have already promised to block any move to retirethe Truman earlier and push the fleet below 12 aircraft carriers.

“We have made a significant investment in these ships, and I am perplexed why this budget request is taking the cornerstone of the United States naval force and allowing it to atrophy,” Wittman said in a statement. “I will be fighting in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act negotiations to ensure we stay on the path to 12 carriers and 355 ships.”

The Virginia delegation isn’t the only one bruised by the Pentagon’s budget decisions for fiscal year 2020 and beyond. From Kansas to Wisconsin and Texas to Alabama, lawmakers are parsing defense plans that could either help or hurt their states.

Light Attack Aircraft

The Air Force’s plan not to buy light attack aircraft in fiscal 2020 has left at least one senator peeved. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) called the service’s plans “schizophrenic” for choosing to continue testing aircraft and exploring industry offerings instead of going ahead with a full-on purchase. Moran has a dog in the fight: Textron Inc. is making one version of the aircraft, the AT-6B, in Wichita, Kan. The other version, the A-29, is made by Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer Defense and Security in Jacksonville, Fla.

U.S. Air Force photo by Ethan D. Wagner
A Beechcraft AT-6B Wolverine experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in July 2017.

All told, the stakes could be high. The Air Force detailed in budget plans to spend about $1 billion over the next five years for light attack aircraft envisioned to perform various missions, including close-air support, reconnaissance, and interdiction.

Space Command

President Donald Trump‘s call for the establishment the Space Force as a sixth branch of the military is prompting a lobbying campaign by at least three congressional delegations and their governors to the new U.S. Space Command in their states. Colorado, Louisiana and Florida are competing for the distinction.

Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) already went so far as to introduce legislation that would ensure that Space Command would be a unified combatant command and not subordinate to another command. The House Armed Services Committee member also wrote to Pentagon leaders about locating the headquarters in his state.

Another HASC member, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.), wrote to Trump earlier this month to request that his home state is selected as the headquarters. Meanwhile, Colorado’s new governor and former Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) wrote to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to underscore that his state already has existing space missions and thousands of aerospace jobs. The letter was co-signed by the bipartisan Colorado delegation.

The Pentagon requested $74 million in fiscal 2020 for Space Command. Still, a decision on the location is months away and the process can’t begin until the command is established, according to Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for Shanahan.

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

The budget request was a mixed bag for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, being built by Oshkosh Corp. for the Army and Marine Corps. The Air Force and Navy are also buying some of the vehicles designed to be the successor to the Humvee made by AM General.

The Army confirmed it is cutting the number of the vehicles it plans to buy from the company’s Wisconsin assembly line by 1,900 over the life of the program. The move is part of the service’s plan to save $22 billion by eliminating 90 programs and slashing 90 more.

Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images
An Oshkosh Defense joint light tactical vehicle on display in Kuwait.

“There’s no doubt the Army needs it in the future, just not at the numbers of the original program of record,” Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy said.

The Army plans to buy 2,530 in the coming year for an eventual total of 49,000. Still, Oshkosh is counting on the Marine Corps to keep the program humming with a purchase of 1,398 vehicles in 2020 and nearly 1,000 per year through 2024.

The Marine Corps has publicly stated it plans to increase its purchase to 9,091 vehicles from 5,500, George Mansfield, the vice president and general manager of joint programs at Oshkosh Defense, said in a statement.

Hypersonics Technology

The Pentagon also talked up its commitment to developing hypersonic missiles and pursuing directed energy weapons, such as lasers, in the budget, and that has made some lawmakers happy.

“A lot of that work is going on in my state, up in Huntsville,” Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Shanahan during the acting secretary’s testimony this month.

The defense budget proposes pumping $2.6 billion into hypersonics in the coming fiscal year, what Shanahan called a “sizable” increase.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing hypersonic weapons in Huntsville for the Navy and Air Force after winning three contracts over the past year potentially worth a combined $2.5 billion. The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal, located in the area, is working on laser weapons to mount on tactical vehicles.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a House Armed Services Committee member, said he is proud the arsenal in his district is “at the forefront” of the maturing technology. Alabama’s defense industry hub also has a heavyweight supporter: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at; Travis Tritten at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at; Jonathan Nicholson at