A House panel may allow the Navy to retire aging cruisers while it is also recommending adding a second destroyer to the Navy’s fiscal year 2022 budget and authorizing another multiyear procurement contract on new destroyers.

The House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee today said its mark and portion of the National Defense Authorization Act does not prevent the Navy from retiring cruisers early as it requested. 

The Navy’s FY ‘22 budget request

seeks to decommission the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Hue City (CG-66) and USS Anzio (CG-68) in FY ’22 in addition to previous plans to retire five other cruisers. The Navy noted cruiser modernization costs grew 200 percent more than the initial programming efforts planned and adding CG-66 and CG-88 to the divestment plan was expected to save $469 million (Defense Daily, May 28). 

A HASC committee aide told reporters on Tuesday the Seapower Subcommittee’s language in the bill has “nothing that prevents the Navy from retiring the cruisers. If you ask [Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe] Courtney, he’s looked at this very closely. He’s listened to the Navy, he recognizes the capability that would be lost if we lose the cruisers, but in his mind, that cruisers’ life – we’ve really not gotten the life extension that we had hoped to get when we did the service life extension on cruisers.”

“So it’s a very expensive bill, about $1.5 billion over the [five year Future Years Defense Program] to even maintain just those two that were in the cruiser modernization plan. So Chairman Courtney is not of the opinion that we should be restricting those retirements,” the aide continued.

However, another committee aide said this is still an “open question” for Seapower Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) when going in to the full committee markup process.

The aide reiterated that while there is a “pretty significant bill” with retaining the cruisers, they noted that Wittman has said the seven cruisers’ missile capability rivals the surface strike fleet of the U.K. Royal Navy.

“He has some pause with regard to getting rid of this cruiser force structure. So I think it’s something we’re still considering as we go into the full committee mark,” the aide continued.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s bill summary published last week did not disclose specifics but said it prohibited the early retirement of naval vessels unless the Secretary of the Navy makes  “certain certifications” to Congress.

A committee aide told reporters the subcommittee understands the Navy is not seeing the topline growth it hoped for to build a larger force and is understanding of some measures to reduce the fleet to balance readiness.

“Obviously, the Navy was planning for larger growth in the topline in their previous plans for what  the FY ‘22 budget was going to be. They did not see that growth. They got a flat budget and so they could not grow at the level that they wanted to,” the aide said.

While the Navy assessed that they are not “going to get the bang for the buck” it needs to keep modernizing the cruisers it requested to retire, “in our viewpoint, we would prefer to see more of a reinvestment in the new construction side,” the aide continued.

“I think there are efficiencies that can be found elsewhere in the Navy’s topline, even with a flat budget, that could go to increasing shipbuilding. But that’s going to be a continued dialogue and debate that we’re going to have I think not only this year but in future budgets on what the right level of growth is for the fleet.”

While the HASC authorization for the Navy’s final shipbuilding level will not be finalized until the full committee language and spending tables are published, a committee aide confirmed the subcommittee is recommending eight battle force ships. This includes adding in a second Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyer after the Navy requested only one destroyer despite previous plans for maintaining two per year.

The aides said the subcommittee mark does not include any language addressing how the Navy requested only one destroyer, but put the second one in its unfunded priorities list.

“We did not include any language. In my opinion, we couldn’t have said it any better than the [House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, HAC-D] did, so didn’t feel like we needed to kick a dog when they’re down. But I would say I agree with everything HAC-D said on that. We’ve been disappointed for now the second year in a row where the Navy, in our opinion, is gaming Congress in one, dropping a Virginia-class submarine last year and a destroyer this year,” a committee aide said.

Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee castigated the Navy for cutting the destroyer from the previous shipbuilding plans after also cutting a Virginia-class submarine from the FY ‘21 budget request against previous plans (Defense Daily, July 12).

That committee’s report said it was “dismayed by the Navy’s decision” to repeat taking a ship out of the previous plan “rather than make difficult funding decisions in a fiscally constrained environment.”

The HASC aide added that they think the Navy trend in not requesting a second planned ship with an implicit expectation Congress will eventually add it back in is a “dangerous game for the Navy to play.”

“I don’t think it’s guaranteed when they do these kinds of taking stuff out at the last minute and depending on Congress to put it back – that that’s always going to be the case. The Virginia-class submarine was a good example where that was not a done deal,” the aide said.

The aides could not say where the funding for the destroyer came from until the full committee language and funding tables are published, but the required $1.5 billion in funding comes from “multiple” Navy programs.

Separately, the committee aides said while the subcommittee mark does not include it, the full committee mark is expected to include a sense of support for the Navy to start another multi-year procurement contract for Flight III DDG-51s starting in fiscal year 2023 because the next-generation destroyer program, DDG(X),is still years away.

“The DDG(X) is at least a minimum of five years away, so there’s really no good reason why we shouldn’t continue to build the Flight III DDGs in another multiyear. I would just continue to watch as we work through the process at subcommittee and full committee if we choose to take that a step further,” the aide said.

Last month, Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said “we will be seeking a multiyear for destroyers in our FY ‘23 budget request” (Defense Daily, July 2).

Previously, in June, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker told a Senate panel the Navy intends to request a multi-year contract in the FY ‘23 budget lasting from FY ‘23 to 2027 (Defense Daily, June 25).