Posted: March 7, 2018 4:00 PM

Navy Leaders Tell House Appropriators ‘Our Competitive Advantage is Being Challenged’

By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The Navy Department’s top three leaders acknowledged that they are losing their competitive advantage to a rapidly rising China and a resurgent Russia and pledged to use the additional funds they expect from Congress to grow their forces and add new capabilities to reverse that trend.

“For almost 30 years, we have enjoyed well-earned, uncontested global dominance,” Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. “Those days are over. Your Navy and Marine Corps remain capable; however, our competitive advantage is being challenged.”

“I deliver you today a plan with a sense of urgency. We cannot and will not allow our competitive advantage to erode,” Spencer said in presenting the Navy Department’s budget request to the appropriators. “With your guidance, these planned investments will provide combat-credible maritime forces for the future.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson said that while there can be a debate about the number of ships required, “all agree on one point — the Navy must get bigger.” But the fleet also must be better, one that is networked and ready, with more time at sea, more weapons, faster and more survivable, he said.

While global contenders are working to defeat us, Richardson said he looked forward to “sailing alongside Congress to build the Navy our nation needs: A lethal Navy for our enemies in combat, a committed Navy for our allies and partners and a safe Navy for our Sailors.”

In response to questions, Richardson cited intensive efforts to develop directed-energy weapons, primarily lasers, to combat the growing threat of cheap unmanned aircraft, and “to get us on the right side of the cost curve” by reducing the cost per shot and continued work on the electromagnetic railgun.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller, told the panel “your Marine Corps remains capable, although along with our naval shipmates our competitive advantage has eroded in every domain of warfare. We must modernize to address the strategic competition.”

In the list of needed modernization, Neller listed information warfare, long rang precision fires and aviation.

Noting that some of the loss of competitive advantage was “a result of inadequate funding,” Neller said, “we require stable and predictable funding to acquire the needed capabilities and a ready force. With Congress’ sustain support we can regain our competitive advantage.”

Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen acknowledged Congress’ role in the nine years of wasteful continuing resolutions (CRs) that weakened defense.

“None of us are proud of the CRs,” he said.

Noting that passage of the fiscal 2018 budget would provide a $60 billion jump in defense funding, Frelinghuysen said, “you will have a lot of money. How will you spend it?”

All three of the officials promised the maximum efficiency and openness in spending the additional money, but indicated the problem of getting a full year’s funding with only six months left in the fiscal year.

“We are addressing flexibility,” Frelinghuysen said, referring to efforts to allow spending some of the funds in the next fiscal year. “We will provide you flexibility.”

Committee members questioned how the Navy would tackle the backlog in ship maintenance with the public shipyards considered at capacity. Spencer and Richardson said they were expanding the government yards and giving the private yards more work.

Asked about the two new naval weapons proposed in the Nuclear Posture Review, Richardson said the low-yield warhead on a Trident sea-launched ballistic missile would be easier to provide than the nuclear-armed cruise missile. Contrary to some critics’ concerns, Richardson said the new ballistic missile would improve deterrence.

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