Lawmakers Line Up to Support Block Buy of Ford-class Carriers
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — A long line of lawmakers streamed into a March 22 meeting of the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition (ACIBC) to express their support for the Navy’s most expensive warships, and particularly their backing of a proposal for a block buy of the next two of the Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered flattops.
The lineup of representatives and senators included House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the two top members of the Seapower subcommittee and lawmakers from across the nation. That was a reflection of the influence of an industry that supports more than 2,000 companies in 46 states and 293 congressional districts, according to the ACIBC.
The perhaps two dozen lawmakers who flowed through a House office building hearing room were a tiny fraction of the 131 representatives and 17 senators who signed letters supporting the Navy’s request to industry for information on potential savings for the two-ship block buy.
ACIBC said that deal would save more than $2 billion, from greater stability in the shipyard workforce and the supplier base, compared with the current policy of approving one carrier at a time, five years apart, and would allow the Navy to reach its long-sought goal of 12 nuclear carriers, commonly called CVNs.
“We’re here this week to advocate for the optimal build rate for the warfighter, taxpayer and industrial base,” said Rick Giannini, ACIBC chairman and CEO of Milwaukee Value Co.
Rep. Rob Wittman, chairman of the House Arms Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, said the fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill provides advanced procurement funds for CVN 80, which will be the USS Enterprise.
The House passed the $1.3 trillion omnibus later in the day, but it needs Senate approval before midnight Friday to prevent a government shutdown.
The block buy, if endorsed by the Navy and included in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization (NDAA), also would cover the as-yet unnamed CVN 81.
CVN 79, the future USS John F. Kennedy, is under construction at Huntington Ingalls Newport News, Virginia, shipyard.
Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney, the ranking Democrat on Seapower and Projection Forces, said the last time Congress approved a block buy of carriers was 1980, during production of the Nimitz-class CVNs. There is a “very strong bipartisan coalition” for this block buy, he told the industry group.
In addition to the CVN block buy, ACIBC was urging support for the Aircraft Carrier Design for Affordability Initiative and the Integrated Digital Shipbuilding Investment, a $100 million combined effort that it said could save more than $700 million for the next seven CVNs. And it asked support for the administration’s fiscal 2019 budget request for $450 million in advanced procurement funding for the refueling and complex overhaul of USS John C. Stennis, CVN 74.
Thornberry told the industry representatives that “this has not been an easy time for you to do business with the Department of Defense,” because of the lower defense funding and a constant string of short-term continuing resolutions.
“Thank you for sticking with us,” he said.
Although it was not a sure thing, Thornberry said, “I think we’re turning the corner to more predictable, stable funding.” The fiscal 2018 omnibus will provide “the largest increase in defense spending in 15 years, he said, but that would “still be 20 percent less than what we had eight years ago.”
Speaking just before Thornberry, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., lauded the carrier shipbuilding industry, which is one of the biggest employers in his state, and said the carriers are “the best example of the flexible force” called for in the new National Defense Strategy.
Because the shipbuilding industry is so important to his state and the nation, Kaine announced that he was organizing a symposium on how to ensure a steady supply of the trained worker required. The gathering, which would include officials from the community colleges, government and industry, was tentatively planned for June 8 in the Norfolk, Virginia, area, he said.