CNO: ‘The Vast Majority of Your Navy is Out There Performing Effectively’
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Challenged on whether last year’s rash of at-sea incidents and fatal collisions were “outliers” or evidence of Navy-wide deficiencies, the Navy’s top officer pointed to the strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities and other operations as proof that overall the fleet was “performing effectively.”
The pointed question to Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John M. Richardson came during an April 24 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee in which Richardson, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller had to explain how they would use the fiscal 2019 funding to expand and improve the naval forces.
Although many of the questions from committee members dealt with programs directly affecting their states, such as the littoral combat ships, submarines and icebreakers, the leaders also were questioned on the effort to produce a low-yield warhead for the ballistic-missile submarines, and how they could increase the fleet and restore readiness on those ships.
Spencer and the CNO repeatedly stated their commitments to ensuring the shipbuilding industrial base remained vibrant. But when Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., asked for special consideration for the Marinette Marine shipyard in her state because of the “unique” factors of that yard and the Freedom-class LCS it builds, Spencer told her he would do “everything we can to ensure those skilled workers do have work. … But we are not in it for corporate welfare.”
In a message apparently aimed at all Navy Department suppliers, Spencer said, “when it comes to price and value … when I talk about a partnership with our suppliers, everyone has to get on board,” and there was “probably room for the owner up there to be competitive.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, the panel’s senior Democrat, cited the fatal collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain last year and the “sobering” findings of the subsequent investigations to question whether the whole fleet had accepted a culture of mediocracy.
Richardson said there clearly were problems on those ships. But he said the Syrian strikes, in which warships and submarines launched scores of Tomahawk missiles, were “executed excellently,” as evidence “the vast majority of your navy is out there performing effectively.”
Questioned about the Nuclear Posture Review’s call for a low-yield warhead for the Trident D5 missiles on the ballistic-missile submarines, Spencer said they could use an existing warhead for a “near-term” response and would rely on a future developmental program to produce a “long-term” solution.
Richardson said the low-yield weapon would go first on the current Ohio-class boats and transition to the Columbia-class subs that would replace them. And he said the Navy carefully planned a replacement for the Trident D5s until after the Columbia boats were in the fleet, to avoid a “massive” funding load.
In response to the questions of how the Navy could attempt to build the fleet toward its goal of 355 ships and keep the existing force trained and ready, Spencer and Richardson said they were committed to a “balanced” use of funds to create a bigger but also more lethal, resilient and ready fleet.
When Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pressed the Navy to build its own icebreakers in addition to the five the Coast Guard plans, Richardson said Arctic icebreaking was “a historic and well-defined Coast Guard mission” and the Navy would “support the Coast Guard in every way,” which clearly indicated there would be no Navy icebreaker.