Mabus Touts Legacy, Defends Push for More Shipbuilding Funds
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Jan. 11 justified his unusual public dispute with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter over the shipbuilding request in his last Navy budget, calling Carter’s proposed cuts “at best a symbolic budget” because of the need for additional ships and President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to expand the fleet.
Reducing the ship buy also would not save money, because each new one would cost more than under the planned multiyear procurement, Mabus told a defense writers’ breakfast. Mabus repeated that view later in a speech to the Surface Navy Association’s (SNA’s) National Symposium.
In his last public appearances after seven-plus years as secretary, Mabus expressed pride “in what we have accomplished,” listing the increase in the size of the fleet, and the number of ships under contract that he said would provide a 308-ship fleet by 2021, and the major shift to alternative energy sources at sea and ashore that he said is saving money and “makes us better warfighters.”
Mabus also extolled his at times controversial personnel policy changes, including opening all Navy and Marine Corps jobs to women, pushing for greater ethnic and racial diversity, and working to reduce suicides and sexual assaults.
The Navy is “significantly different,” but also “significantly better” than when he became secretary, he said. “We have the best people we’ve ever had.”
Explaining his budget dispute with Carter, Mabus said he was ordered to cut shipbuilding by $16 billion over five years, but he added $35 billion. He said the attempt to craft a leaner budget, which Carter said would conform to the restrictive Budget Control Act, was “a totally useless exercise” because the Obama administration is not sending Congress a fiscal 2018 spending request.
“If you’re going to put in a symbolic budget, it should be based on the COCOMS’ [combatant commanders] demands and on here’s what we need,” he said.
At both appearances, Mabus said he has reduced the cost of every ship type the Navy is buying by increasing the buys and getting multiyear contracts.
He also responded to Carter’s complaint that the Navy was spending too much on ships at the expense of the advanced weapons he considered necessary to counter the Russian and Chinese military buildups.
“We’re the Navy. We got to have ships,” he declared, and asked “how are you going to get those weapons forward without ships?”
But in response to a question at the SNA forum, Mabus praised the “distributed lethality” program pushed by Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Forces and Surface Forces Pacific Fleet, which requires more and longer-range precision weapons.
Asked about the F-35 program at the defense writers breakfast, Mabus said the Navy bought additional F/A-18 Super Hornets because the F-35 was behind schedule and “way over budget.” Although the F-35 “is called a joint program, it’s not,” he said, but is three different airplanes with only 40 percent commonality. Because it was run by a joint program office, the services had no control over it and “nobody was held accountable” for the soaring costs and delays, he said.
That experience, he said, is a great reason why the future fighter that the Navy is developing should not be joint. He said that program was moving along and might be able to be in production by 2025.
Despite his criticism of the F-35, Mabus said the Marines need it to replace their aged tactical aircraft and the Navy will continue its planned buy.
Asked whether he was worried that the new administration and Congress would roll back his alternative energy programs, Mabus said the program for bases, which have 60 percent of alternative power sources, are safe because they are locked in with public-private partnerships. They might be able to reverse the push for biofuels at sea, he said, “but you would be giving up a tactical edge.” And, he noted, the cost of biofuels has fallen to $1.99 a gallon, matching conventional fuels, and its use is growing in the airlines and allied navies.
Saying goodbye to the Surface Navy audience, Mabus said, “I’m going to miss this job,” but promised, “I’ll always be with you.”