A draft House defense authorization bill would approve the Navy procuring 11 new ships as the administration asked, but replacing a fleet oiler with an amphibious transport dock (LPD).

The FY 2020 Navy request sought 12 ships, but that included the two carrier buy Congress authorized in FY ’19. The draft House bill maintains the request for three Virginia-class attack submarines; three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers; the first future frigate (FFG(X)); and two T-ATS towing salvage, and rescue ships (Defense Daily, March 12).

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

However, the draft approves of only one of two John Lewis-class T-AO-205 fleet replenishment oilers requested and adds the second San Antonio-class Flight II landing Platform Dock, LPD-31.

The draft bill is set to go through a markup in the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Seapower subcommittee on Tuesday.

In the budget request, the Navy delayed LPD-31 from FY ‘20 to’21 to request a third Virginia submarine. Senior committee staff told reporters on Monday that HASC is giving the Navy incremental funding authority for LPD-31 and authorizing it for FY ’20. The committee then rephased one of the oilers for FY ’21.

Last year, “when the Navy tried to accelerate one of those, they had not included any long-lead time material funding in the FY ’19 bill. So that ship actually will execute as an FY ’21 ship anyway, so we just rephased that to FY ’21, but still are going to recommend the long-lead time advanced procurement for the second one,” senior committee staff said.

In March, during a Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee hearing, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) pushed Navy officials on how helpful it would be to provide incremental funding authority on LPD-31 rather than let procurement be deferred entirely to 2021 (Defense Daily, March 29).

Then, last month, the Senate committee authorized incremental funding for LPD-31 in its defense authorization bill (Defense Daily, May 23).

Senior committee staff explained how the bill approves 11 ships while the Navy requested 12 being the same number of actual procured ships. The Navy requested CVN-81 from the two carrier buy in the FY ’20 budget, but Congress was “proactive” in authorizing the two-carrier buy in the FY ’19 budget last year.

“We don’t authorize the same ship multiple times,” the staffer said.

The draft bill also further cements preventing the Navy from retiring the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) early.

A committee staffer said the bill adds statutory language that “basically says no funding can go to anything that would reduce the carrier force structure below the statutory requirement of 11.”

“That really just reiterates current law that you need to maintain 11 carriers and Truman will be part of that,” they added.

The Navy originally planned to retire the Truman early and not refuel it to reallocate funds to new technologies. However, after strong Congressional opposition, this was reversed by President Trump in April (Defense Daily, April 30).

The staff said the HASC Seapower Chairman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and ranking member Rob Wittman (R-Va.) “are all for new high-end technologies, I think we just want to know what those are.”

The staffer said so far they have only received “high level verbiage of we need to get at the high-end fight. Well, when those systems become mature and are ready for big level funding, like $5 billion that you were going to offset with the aircraft carrier refueling, we’re all ears.”

For now, the committee has not seen enough to necessitate not refueling a carrier in exchange and see a false choice between unmanned vehicles and carriers.

The provisions pertaining to CVN-75 matches other congressional committees’ actions. The Senate panel’s authorization bill “requires” the secretary of the Navy to carry out the Truman refueling (Defense Daily, May 23). Likewise, the House defense appropriations bill funded the previously planned $17 million in advanced procurement funds for CVN-75 refueling overhaul work.