The House Armed Services Committee's (HASC) seapower and projection forces panel conducted a markup of its portion of the FY ’19 National Defense Authorization Act Thursday, adding several ships to the Trump administration’s budget request.
The mark supports 13 ships, three above the request. This includes two Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs), three DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two T-AO-205 oilers, one Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB), one T-ATS towing, salvage, and rescue ship, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) requested and two more, and the next Ford-class aircraft carrier (CVN-81).
It also recommended the full committee authorize long-lead time material for two more Virginia-class submarines in FY ’22 and ’23, authorize multi-year procurement for 625 SM-6 missiles at a rate of 125 missiles per year, approve multi-year procurement for the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, and recommend fully funding the B-21 Raider program.
The FY ’18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorized the Navy to buy up to 13 SSNs in a multi-year procurement contract to cover FY '19 – FY ’23. The Virginia-class is built by both General Dynamics' [GD] Electric Boat division and Huntington Ingalls Industries' [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding.
HASC staffers said the committee believes industry can support building three Virginia-class submarines while also working on the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). One staffer said the committee recommended these submarines for two reasons: to maintain enough submarines as moving up to 355 ships and to help de-risk the Columbia-class production.
The staffer highlighted the Navy has 52 SSNs now but by 2028 is set to have only 41, a reduction of 20 percent.
The Navy originally planned to buy two SNNs per year, but the defense committees wanted to maintain an ability to add extra ships in up to three years, with industry saying it could support that production. The staffer said a third boat in FY ’23 is undecided and the Navy is still considering it.
GD Electric Boat has significant challenges to fully build and deploy the new Columbia-class, but adding two more SSNs allows the company to carry risk on those boats. This will helps Electric Boat flatten its aggressive ramp up in shipbuilding staff at the yard, the staffer said.
The staffer said that both GD and HII have said not only are the extra boats executable but desirous because it de-risks the Columbia-class, an idea that appeals to the committee.
The staffer also explained the additional SSNs would be in Block 5 and include the Virginia Payload Module, but taking on the shipbuilder’s risk means they may take longer to deliver.
The bill would also bar the Navy from retiring the USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) until a replacement capability is established. Staffers said the committee is agnostic on what the replacement should be but the Navy will likely not choose a single ship capability.
The subcommittee’s mark puts attention on the ready reserve force, which is made up of 46 old ships, with some even steam-powered. The 2018 NDAA authorized the Navy to buy two used ships to start recapitalizing the forces, but is not planning to make any moves until FY 2021 or 2022, the staffer said.
Therefore, the bill includes authorization for a further eight reserve ships, a requirement to build 10 new ships, and a limit on the Military Sealift Command’s funding until the Navy contracts for the two 2018 ships and starts writing requirements for a common hull multi-mission platform.
The bill keeps the command from getting 25 percent of its funding until the requirements are written.
Before the subcommittee completed the markup on Thursday, it approved a set of three en bloc amendments by voice vote. The first amendment, from Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), directs the Navy to ensure the USS George Washington CVN-73) is modified to support fielding the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker program before it completes its Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH).
Separately, the subcommittee on tactical air and land forces wrote provisions in its mark to address F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multi-year procurement authority and physiological episode concerns.
The committee’s mark would authorize the Secretary of the Navy to enter into one or more multiyear contracts to procure Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers starting in FY ’19. The administration’s FY ’19 budget request included 24 Super Hornets (Defense Daily, Feb. 12) while the FY ’18 omnibus funding bill included $1.8 billion for 24 Super Hornets (Defense Daily, March 22).
HASC staff noted the Navy requested this multiyear contract authority for FY 2019 - 2021 in the administration's budget request.
That subcommittee also included a section requiring the Secretary of the Navy to modify F/A-18 aircraft to reduce the occurrence of and mitigate the risk posed by physiological episodes that have bedeviled the Navy and Air Force. This specifically includes replacing cockpit altimeters, upgrading the onboard oxygen generation systems, installing better physiological monitoring and alert systems, and installing an automatic ground collision avoidance system.
The provision directs an annual report to the defense committees from Feb. 2019 through Feb. 2021 and states the secretary must submit a written certification that newly procured attack and trainer aircraft will include the most recent technological advancements to avoid physiological episodes.
Additionally, the bill would require the Navy Secretary to also submit a report to the defense committees by March 2019 on modifications made to T-45 trainer aircraft and associated ground equipment to mitigate the risk of physiological episodes.