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The 2008 USS Enterprise Refurbishment - A Billion Dollar Example of DoD Waste Prompted by CVN-78

Updated: Feb 28, 2023


The "Big E" being escorted by two nuclear powered cruisers, the USS Longbeach (CGN-9) and the USS Bainbridge (CGN-25) in its 1964, 65-day, record setting circumnavigation of the globe.


In April 2008, after 47 years of service, the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) entered the Northrop-Grumman Newport News shipyard for an 18-month extended docking for the purpose undergoing a major refurbishment to be completed by September 2009 at a cost of $453 million. As the months rolled by, the completion schedule slipped to April 2010 and costs for the refurbishment rose to $662 million - 46 percent over budget. In 2023 dollars that is $921 million.


Then on April 6, 2009, one year into what would turn out to be a billion dollar refurbishment, Admiral Gary Roughhead, Chief of Naval Operations, asked Congress to speed up the timing the Enterprise's decommissioning from late 2014 to late 2012 or early 2013. Congress approved the Admiral's request.

Consequently, on April 19, 2010, when the Enterprise left the Northrop Grumman shipyard to conduct sea trials in preparation for return to the fleet she was destined to complete only two more deployments, with her last deployment from Norfolk Virginia beginning on March 11, 2012 and ending November 4, 2012. Upon completion of that deployment, the "Big E" was removed from service and then formally decommissioned in 2017.

So after a major refurbishment costing taxpayers nearly one billion dollars (2023 dollars), the Enterprise was removed from service and then decommissioned. Yes, the refurbishment took longer than expected and cost more than expected, but one would think that the Navy would have been incented to get some value out the two year, $922 million dollar refurbishment. Further, by retiring the Enterprise earlier than planned, the Navy's mandate to keep 11 active carrier groups available became impossible as her replacement the Gerrald R. Ford (CVN-78) was not due to come on line until 2015.


Of course the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) did not really come online online until October 5, 2022 when it began its first deployment. And even 13 years after its keel laying in 2009, its first deployment found it hamstrung by aircraft launch (EMALS ) and retrieval systems (AAG) many times less reliable than those of CVN-65. In other words, in the real world over any given deployment of more than a few weeks it is highly likely that recently refurbished CVN-65, would be able to outperform the $13 billion Ford CVN-78, in terms of average daily launches and retrievals.


SO WHY THE RUSH TO RETIRE THE ENTERPRISE EARLY AFTER A MAJOR OVERHAUL?

The reason, the $922 million 2023 dollars) spent on the refurbishment was a sunk cost and the defense contractors had received their money. And by not deploying the Enterprise for another year or two, hundreds of millions of dollars of operational expenditures could be freed up to cover the exploding capital costs of ships like the budget-busting Ford Class carrier.


Note: It has become SOP to prematurely retire ships in order to fund an ever smaller number of expensive new ships. The results has been an ever shrinking Navy.


Another Shot of the USS Enterprise Setting a World Record


The USS Enterprise, along with her nuclear powered cruiser escorts, the Long Beach, GGN-9, (center) and the Bainbridge,CGN-25, successfully completed "Operation Sea Orbit" in 1964 by circumnavigating the globe (30,565 miles) without refueling in 65 days.


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