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Posted: May 25, 2017 9:42 AM

HASC Seapower’s Wittman: 2018 Budget Does Not Support CNO’s Vision

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

WASHINGTON — The Navy’s proposed 2018 budget falls short in addressing the Navy’s need to move faster in building a larger fleet, said the leader of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee.

“Noting that the chief of naval operations [CNO], Adm. John Richardson, said the Navy needed a more powerful fleet in the 2020s, not the 2040s, without any reservation, I believe that the CNO is correct,” Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the subcommittee, said May 24 during a hearing on the Navy’s 2018 budget proposal. “Unfortunately, the fiscal 2018 budget request does not support the vision of the CNO nor of this subcommittee.”

The 2018 budget proposes the construction of eight ships, a level which is inadequate to meet the Navy’s goal of 355 ships in its battle force. The Defense Department’s budget strategy is stressing restoring readiness over new procurement in 2018 as a bridge to 2019, when it says it will, with a new defense strategy in place, push for a larger fleet.

“While I do not object to this budget’s emphasis on current readiness, I believe that there is a high degree of naivete in the area of ship construction,” Wittman said. “We must start now, not in 2019. Some believe that ship construction is like a spigot that can be turned off and on. I believe there are those in defense budgeting that advocate such an approach. Ship construction is a long game. It requires steady funding to achieve steady progress. Unfortunately, I do not see steady progress toward fulfilling the goal of obtaining a 355-ship navy. The budget request of only 8 ships does little to build toward a 355-ship navy. We have hot production lines ready to add more work.”

“The Trump administration has proposed a 300-ship budget for a 355-ship plan,” said the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn. “What has this administration been waiting for? While I understand the Defense Department is planning a wider review of its defense strategy that will guide future investments, I can think of no element of the department that has as solid foundation to start from than shipbuilding. A year lost in shipbuilding can never be regained.”

Courtney pointed out that the Navy did not submit a 30-year shipbuilding plan nor a five-year Future Years Defense Program as part of the budget submission.

Wittman noted that “building one aircraft carrier every five years will never allow us to reach 12 aircraft carriers. Building two attack submarines a year will result in a submarine reduction in force by 20 percent in 10 years. And building only one LCS [littoral combat ship] will result in massive layoffs in both Marinette and Mobile in the states of Wisconsin and Alabama. These are not acceptable outcomes.”

Allison Stiller, principal civilian deputy and assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, testifying at the hearing, said the Navy is acquiring an aircraft carrier every five years, but a building rate of one carrier every 3.5 years would be required to achieve a fleet of 12 carriers in the next 30 years. 

Stiller also said the Navy is looking at amending its budget request of one LCS to two ships. She acknowledged that three LCSs is the optimal procurement profile.

“We’re not at the most efficient level but we’re also greater than minimum sustaining rate,” she said. “So we will work with the yards to make sure that we are mitigating impacts to the industrial base as we move forward.”

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