The U.S. Navy won’t bring back decommissioned ships to grow the fleet

The ships, decommissioned from the Navy after decades of service, are rusting away at a number of “mothball fleet” locations across the United States. Navy officials have concluded it would be too expensive to bring them back and they would offer too few capabilities to make them worthwhile.

According to, Vice Admiral Tom Moore said the service had taken a look at decommissioned vessels and concluded it just wasn’t worth it. Not only are the ships old, but some have also been cannibalized to keep existing ships still in the fleet running. The Navy says the current fleet of 288 ships is too small for the service’s global responsibilities and is looking to boost the fleet to 355 ships by the 2030s.

Moore told the press the Navy looked at every ship on the “inactive” list, particularly retired Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates. The Perry class was a small multipurpose warship capable of anti-submarine warfare, and self-defense against anti-air threats. Each could carry up to two Seahawk helicopters. The Perrys could operate independently but could also travel as part of a carrier battle group, adding anti-submarine capability.

The U.S. Navy built 51 Perry frigates, but all have been decommissioned. Most of them were scrapped, sunk and turned into fish habitat, and transferred abroad to U.S. allies. Less than twenty are sitting in mothballs in Bremerton, Pearl Harbor and Philadelphia, awaiting their ultimate fate.

The U.S. Navy has a long tradition of keeping ships after they leave Navy service, parking them in quiet corners of navy bases and letting them quietly rust. The so-called “mothball fleet” shrank dramatically over the past two decades, from a high of several hundred ships after the Cold War to less than fifty today. The ships are held in reserve for national emergency, but in most cases they just end up sitting around for several years before being scrapped or sold abroad.

Today, the mothball fleet is maintained at Bremerton, Washington, Philadelphia, and Pearl Harbor. There are three Perry-class frigates at Bremerton plus the aircraft carriers Kitty Hawk and Enterprise, and their age and cost means the carriers will absolutely not come back. Philadelphia has 15 Perry-class frigates, a pair of older Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and a handful of old amphibious ships. Pearl Harbor has three Perrys, five amphibious ships, and what appears to be a pair of old fleet support ships, likely oilers or ammunition ships. The Ticonderogas are likely the ships being cannibalized as there are still approximately 22 newer versions of the cruisers still in service.