HASC chair: Don’t mothball the cruisers, upgrade them

Buck McKeon wants the Navy to keep and upgrade the ships that DoD would decommission to save money.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon said Wednesday he wants the Navy to keep the seven cruisers it has proposed decommissioning because the fleet needs the ships to reach their full lives.

He told an audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library out in California that he would try to help save the ships that Secretary Panetta and other top leaders — though not Navy leaders — have basically characterized as worn out.

“We will try to hold back cuts to the Navy’s cruiser force,” he said, “finding the money for our cruisers to undergo proper upgrades, instead of mothballing ships needed to sustain the shift to Asia, before those ships reach the end of their lifespan.”

The surface Navy loves the cruiser and destroyer modernization it has begun with the early ships in the two classes, which gives crews nicer accommodations and brings the ships’ weapons, sensors and electronics up to the latest standards. But the yard work costs money and it sidelines warships for months that, as we keep hearing, are in high demand from combatant commanders.

McKeon did not detail what the Navy should give up to keep its cruisers, or go into many specifics on much else in his Reagan Library speech. The remarks weren’t really for the usual Washington eggheads — by donning the mantle of Reagan, McKeon seemed to be aiming his call for support at a wider audience of conservatives outside the defense family.

“To put it plainly, we need your help,” he said. “We need your help restoring the concept of the Reagan military. Just the name invokes the concept of strength and certitude. I need you to be advocates for the principles that President Reagan advocated. I need you to stand with our troops. I need you to reject government intrusion in our lives, and refocus this great Republic back to Constitutional obligations like providing for the common defense. These cuts can be stopped, averted, held off. But it requires you to be involved. To be vocal. To be strong. How can we call ourselves Reagan Republicans if we sit quietly by during the most systematic and catastrophic cuts to an institution that Reagan helped build?”

The Reagan Challenge! It’s the ultimate gauntlet for conservatives — the final trump card. The question is, will it work? Can defense advocates drum up a popular groundswell to pressure Congress to deal with sequestration and the other thorny questions in the defense world, or is this subject just too wonky?