The House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee mark proposal for the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) recommends the full committee approve the Navy’s request for eight new ships while also saving at least five of 24 ships the service wants to decommission in FY ‘23 and sets a floor for maintaining at least 31 amphibious ships.

The mark recommends the committee approve the Navy’s FY ‘23 request for two Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs); two

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDGs); one Constellation-class frigate (FFG); one Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD); one John Lewis-class replenishment oiler (T-AO); and one Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ship (Defense Daily, March 28).

However, it also recommended adding $250 million to fund the Marine Corps’ top FY ‘23 unfunded priorities list item, advance procurement for LPD-33. The mark intends for that next amphibious ship to be procured in FY ‘24 (Defense Daily, April 1).

The Huntington Ingalls Industries-built future USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121) Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer undergoing builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico in August 2021. (Photo: HII).
The Huntington Ingalls Industries-built future USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121) Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer undergoing builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico in August 2021. (Photo: HII).

Notably, the mark would both set a statutory floor of 31 traditional L-class amphibious vessels and prohibit the planned retirement of five of the requested 24 ships the Navy wants to decommission. These include the USS Vicksburg (CG-69) Germantown (LSD-42), Gunston Hall (LSD-44), Tortuga (LSD-46) and Ashland (LSD-48).

Committee aides told reporters on Monday the mark also requires the Navy Secretary “to consult with the Commandant of the Marine Corps on all major decisions directly concerning amphibious force structure or capability.”

Several Marine Corps officials testified before committees that if the amphibious force goes down to 24 ships over the next several years, as Navy plans projects, the service would likely provide adequate capability in the Indo-Pacific region but have to take risk in other areas (Defense Daily, May 19).

The latest Navy 30-year shipbuilding plan detailed the service’s plans to retire nine Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ships, five Ticonderoga-class cruisers, four Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ships (LSDs), two submarines, two oilers, and two Expeditionary Transfer Dock ships (ESD). The plan said these retirements free up $3.6 billion in resources for shipbuilding and other priorities like manpower and maximizing missile orders (Defense Daily, April 25).

Over the next five years, the shipbuilding plan would lower the amphibious force from the current 31 to 24 ships by FY ‘24 by retiring the LSDs three to 14 years earlier than planned. The amphibious force would not return to the current 31 ships until at least 2030. The Navy also has not yet decided to keep building San Antonio-class Flight II LPDs past LPD-32, as previously planned.

According to the draft mark, the amphibious force floor would not count the future Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) but include the Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ships (LSDs), San Antonio-class (LPD-17) Flight I and Flight II LPDs, Wasp-class amphibious assault ships (LHD-1), and both America-class Flight 0 and Flight I amphibious assault ships (LHA-6).

The mark specifically says the Navy would not be allowed to retire more than four more cruisers while also keeping the Vicksburg off that list. The Navy only requested retiring five cruisers, including Vicksburg.

The Navy has repeatedly argued the cruisers need to be retired due to their age and poor material conditions, being on average 35 years old. They have experienced many delay days for  maintenance and modernization work out of shipyards and in several instances have had to return to port due to leaks below the water line and other repairs needed below the water line. 

During a hearing before the subcommittee last month, Jay Stefany, principal civilian deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, confirmed the Vicksburg is about 85 percent complete on its modernization work. This came amid resistance from members of Congress to retiring all 24 requested ships (Defense Daily, May 19).

Speaking to reporters on Monday, committee aides said CG-69 is the only cruiser directly addressed in the committee’s mark because “the Navy’s provided testimony to the committee that they’re about 85% complete on the Vicksburg. So we’re well on our way to making major investments into the Vicksburg and also it’s one of the younger cruisers proposed for retirement.”

“I think the others were proposed in accordance with their normal cycle. So I think that’s why we find Vicksburg was initially targeted,” the aide continued.

Artist rendering of the first Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, LPD-30. (Image: HII)
Artist rendering of the first Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, LPD-30. (Image: HII)

While members of Congress have questioned whether the Navy should be allowed to retire all nine Littoral Combat Ships it seeks to decommission early, committee aides told reporters that is not addressed in the opening Seapower Subcommittee mark, but “there’s a lot of member interest and that will be addressed at full committee.”

The aides also said the retirement restrictions in the subcommittee mark are limited by consensus.

“So there’s consensus that the USS Vicksburg should be retained…and with respect to the LSDs, there’s consensus or I guess, I’d say strong support for the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ assessment that he needs no fewer than 31 amphibious ships. And so, you know, prohibiting retirement of the LSD certainly gets after that plan, that program.”

While the mark does not mention the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) specifically, a committee aide said “we did actually include a [Government Accountability Office] assessment of amphibs writ large…it’s just an assessment of the Navy’s amphibious warfare fleet. So it’s a holistic analysis of their current fleet, Navy, Marine Corps, future plans, assessment of costs for building, maintaining and sustaining that fleet. That’ll just be a GAO assessment.”

According to the mark report, “the committee is also concerned about the broader implications of the importance of amphibious warfare capabilities, the probability of such a conflict, and the cost of building and maintaining a fleet that can prosecute such a conflict. The committee is interested to learn more about the analysis, decision-making processes, and the frequency with which the Navy and Marine Corps review requirements for amphibious warfare and align these requirements with acquisition programs.”

Therefore, the GAO review should at least include an analysis of the current amphibious warfare fleet, Navy and Marine Corps future plans for the fleet and how it will be positioned as technology changes, and an assessment of the cost of building and maintaining a fleet whose primary mission is amphibious conflict.

Separately, the mark also authorizes the Navy Secretary to enter into a multi-year procurement (MYP) contract for up to 15 new destroyers, which matches the last MYP allotment while the Navy sought procurement authority for nine to 10 destroyers from FY ‘23-’27. The Navy has generally procured two destroyers per year, split between shipbuilders General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works (BIW) [GD] and HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding [HII].

If the Navy ultimately procured 15 destroyers over the five-year period, that would require both shipyards to be able to ramp up production to about 1.5 destroyers each per year. 

The mark also authorizes the Navy Secretary to enter into a block buy contract for up to 25 Textron [TXT] LCAC-100-class Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) craft.