Congressman: Navy’s Force Structure Assessment ‘A Very Bold and Necessary Vision’
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — Several congressmen affirmed their support for the Navy’s requirement for a fleet of 38 amphibious warfare ships as determined by the recent Force Structure Assessment (FSA).
In a Feb. 7 event on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Amphibious Warfare Industrial Base Coalition (AWIBC), a group of suppliers for amphibious warfare shipbuilding, six representatives and one senator voiced their support for building the needed future fleet and sustaining the existing amphibs to maintain a forcible entry capability for the Marine Corps.
The AWIBC, chaired by retired Navy Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, also submitted a letter to Congress expressing support for shoring up the Navy’s amphib fleet. McKnight told the audience the best way for Congress to afford the ships was to “take advantage of the investments already made,” continuing to build the proven ship types or basing new ships on proven hulls.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., the new chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said the FSA was “a very bold and necessary vision” and that “38 amphibious ships is where we need to be.”
Wittman said he asked the Congressional Budget Office for several scenarios on how the fleet can grow to 355 ships, the number in the battle force determined in the FSA. He said he will use the National Defense Authorization Act as the foundation to reach the 355-ship goal. But he said that the appropriations process is key to reaching the goal and that there “was no way we can get there with the [budget] sequester in place.”
He stressed that “it is equally as important to maintain the ships that we do have,” noting that as key to getting to 355 ships.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., noted that the FSA was completed during President Barack Obama’s Administration. He also stressed the importance of explaining the need for a larger fleet to congressmen who come from districts without a strong naval presence.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said future conflicts involving the United States are going to “demand a more maritime response and that the maritime team is the one that is going to be called to the front.”
Nelson praised the performance last fall off Libya of the USS Wasp Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“The ARG is the protector of our country,” he said.
Also speaking was Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller, who described amphibious warfare capability as something “this nation has, and nobody else does, and others covet.”
Neller acknowledged that the requirement of the regional combatant commanders for 45 to 50 amphibs “is not affordable,” but that the 38 ships in the FSA will “give this nation a two-MEB [Marine Expeditionary Brigade] capability.”
Neller praised the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and the F-35B Lightning strike fighter while acknowledging that “this stuff that we do is expensive and is going to compete with a lot of other demands [in the budget].”
Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., cited the constitutional requirement for Congress to provide for and maintain a Navy.
“We’ve got to pay for it,” he said, noting the need “to repeal, at least in part, the Budget Control Act. That’s going to be politically difficult. The American people expect us to do the right thing.”
Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, praised the decision to build the LX(R) amphibious ship and stressed the need to “focus attention on sustaining our current fleet.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who served in Iraq as a Marine captain, said the nation still needs a forced-entry capability and noted that the new administration presents a “once in a generation opportunity” to increase the size of the fleet.
Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Miss., who served as a Marine helicopter pilot in an amphibious ship off Vietnam during the Vietnam War, said “the amphibious navy works” and that Navy and Marine Corps equipment needs to be “lethal and affordable and maintainable,” with the need for the Defense Department to “stop doing things that don’t add value.”
Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va., who succeeded former Seapower subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes in his district, said he supports a naval build-up, but cautioned that “we can’t pretend we have unlimited funds, because that’s not fair to the taxpayer. … If we space things out appropriately, if production lines are humming along smoothly, we can end up minimizing cost and maximizing readiness.”