Defense Secretary James Mattis supports further increases to the Pentagon’s shipbuilding budget because the military is planning to adopt a maritime-based strategy to defend the United States homeland, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 26.
“I believe we’re moving toward a more maritime strategy in terms of our military strategy to defend the country,” Mattis said. “It’s the nature of our time and so I’d be supportive if the Senate found a way to increase the shipbuilding budget.”
Mattis, a former Marine Corps General, testified on the fiscal 2019 Defense Department Budget alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford and Pentagon Comptroller David L. Norquist.
The words “navy,” “ocean” and “maritime” do not appear in the unclassified synopsis of the National Defense Strategy published earlier this year. However, that document notes the United States is separated by vast oceans from most of its closest allies and likely adversaries like China, Iran, Russia and North Korea.
Under President Barack Obama, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter began a “rebalance” – often called the Pacific Pivot – of forces to the Pacific as a check on China’s sabre rattling expansionism in the region. The pivot was never fully realized as the U.S. military was called to check active aggression by Russia in Europe and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan again intensified.
Early in its tenure, the Trump administration announced the pivot to the Pacific was officially canceled, but Mattis has visited the region more than once and noted during one public appearance at Yakota Air Base in Japan that six of 10 Navy ships, more than half of deployed Army soldiers and two-thirds of the Marine Corps' forces are assigned to U.S. Pacific Command.
The almost-off-hand comment came in response to a question from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), asking whether Mattis was willing to speed the Navy to a total fleet of 355 ships, which is now scheduled for sometime in the 2030s.
“Sir, if you gave me all the money in the world, I’d go for it in the next five years,” Mattis said.
Included in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2019 budget request is $23.7 billion that funds 10 combat ships and eight support ships. Of that, $7.3 billion is for the first two of 10 Virginia-class SSN-774 attack submarines in a multi-year procurement running from FY 2019 – 2023. Another $5.8 billion would go toward the first three Flight III Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyers of a 10-year multi-year procurement contract that runs through 2022.
The remainder includes $1.1 billion for one final Littoral Combat Ship (LCS); $650 million for one Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB); two John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oilers (T-AO) for $1.1 billion; and $80.5 million for one Towing Salvage and Rescue Ship (T-ATS).
“These funds arrest the downward trajectory of the Navy’s size and lethality,” Mattis said in prepared testimony. “Consistent with the National Defense Strategy, the fleet will continue to grow to meet capabilities needed in the future and to maintain an industrial base healthy enough to adapt and evolve in a dynamic environment.”
To achieve a 355-ship Navy sooner than the originally projected 2050 timeframe, the Navy also will perform a service-life extension programs on six guided missile cruisers that will add another five years to their service lives. It also will extend the service life of one Los Angeles-class submarine life by 11 years, Mattis said.
“We are committed to expanding the Navy while making it fit for operations in the face of future threats,” he said.
In other shipbuilding acquisition plans, the Navy in fiscal 2019 requested $1.6 billion to fund the second year of the USS Enterprise (CVN-80) construction, outfitting and training; $3 billion in procurement and $705 million in research development, test and evaluation for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program; and $449.5 million to fund long-lead items for the refueling complex overhaul of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), scheduled for FY 2021.
Through 2023, the Navy’s Future Years Defense Plan calls for purchasing 54 new ships including one Columbia-class submarine, a Ford-class aircraft carrier, 10 SSN-774 Virginia-class submarines, 14 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one LCS, Six Future Frigates (FFG(X)), three new class LX(R) amphibious assault ships, two ESBs, eight fleet replenishment oilers, six Towing Salvage and Rescue Ships, and two T-AGOS(X) surveillance ship replacements.