A House subcommittee is pushing the Navy to procure five ships over the fiscal year 2018 budget request as part of an effort to push the fleet towards 355 ships.

The House Armed Services (HASC) Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, in its mark of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), calls on the Navy to procure five additional ships in fiscal year 2018 beyond the nine already requested. This includes one additional destroyer, two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), one amphibious dock landing ship, and one Expeditionary Sea Base.

The mark, recommended to the full HASC on June 22, also recommends the Navy get additional advance procurement for aircraft carriers and attack submarines, and an expansion of E-2D early warning and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. This is paired with establishing the policy of the U.S. to have at least 355 battle force ships available “as soon as practicable.”

The USS Coronado (LCS-4): Photo: U.S. Navy
The USS Coronado (LCS-4): Photo: U.S. Navy

Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening statement before the markup that the U.S. has “woefully under resourced” the demands of the U.S. Navy and Air Force to support current requirements and there are hot production lines in the shipbuilding and aviation sectors prepared to respond.

“What is left for Congress to decide is whether we are prepared to answer the call. Without any reservation, I believe this mark and the funding recommendations we make to [full committee] Chairman Thornberry are unambiguous,” Wittman said.

“Today is the first step in our nation’s long term commitment to restoring our readiness.  Today is a time to authorize the resources, the modernization, the personnel and the equipment necessary to provide our nation the military it so desperately needs,” he added.

The subcommittee’s markup also authorizes multiyear procurement authority to the Navy for 15 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the next five years at a rate of three ships per year. This is paired with multiyear procurement authority for 13 Virginia-class attack submarines for the next five years at a minimum rate of two per year. This authority also provides the Navy with advance procurement authority to support a third submarine in 2022, 2022, and 2023. Wittman said this is meant to save 15 percent in costs.

“This is the equivalent of buying seven ships for the price of six,” he said.

The mark also prohibits the retiring of additional Ticonderoga-class cruisers, prohibits the retirement of mine countermeasures ships or MH-53 helicopters until the Navy can deploy the LCS mine warfare capability, and restricts major overhauls and repairs of U.S. naval vessels in foreign shipyards to six months.

The mark also expands the authority for the ballistic missile submarine to include additional components that could be more efficiently procured. “The Congressional Budget Office has indicated such an approach will save several hundred million dollars per submarine,” Wittman said. It allows the secretary of the Navy to enter into multiyear contract for certain vessel components like missile tubes, torpedo tubes, and propulsors.

Regarding carriers, Wittman said the mark includes portions of a bill previously introduced this year by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) that builds them faster than once every five years, which “will allow our nation to realize the 12 aircraft carriers we need.” It directs the Defense Department to obtain 12 carriers by the end of FY 2023, removes the requirement that the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) complete shock trials, and expands Navy authority to procure new Ford-class ships and overhaul the existing Nimitz-class carriers.

It provides economic order quantity authority for the construction of two Ford-class carriers and incremental funding authority for the nuclear refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) of four Nimitz-class carriers.

Shock trials involve subjecting the ship to a large underwater explosion nearby to evaluate the ship’s ability to withstand combat by analyzing the performance of critical systems. Back in 2015 Navy officials said shock trials would push back the Ford’s deployment date from 2019 to 2021 (Defense Daily, Oct. 1, 2015). Congress mandated full-ship shock trials (FSST) for the Ford in the 2016 NDAA.

Other assorted pieces of the mark include reinstating a requirement to preserve certain C-5 aircraft for future recall into active service, prohibiting contracting for the re-host of Compass Call mission systems until the acquisition strategy is certified by OSD, and fully authorizes the Maritime Security Program.

Wittman also had kind words for Northrop Grumman [NOC] on the B-21 Raider program. “While it remains early in the design process, I believe that Northrup Grumman has made the B-21 program a priority and is delivering to the anticipated cost and schedule of the program.”

This runs counter to how Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently criticized how secretive the B-21 program funding is. The Air Force intends to use $2 billion in research and development funds for the program in FY ’18. The program recently completed its preliminary design review and intends to buy upwards of 100 B-21s to be fielded by the mid-2020s (Defense Daily, June 6).

Wittman highlighted his cooperation with the ranking member Joe Courtney (D-Conn.). “His partnership and shared vision throughout this journey has been particularly appreciated.”

Courtney agreed and said “I think we all sort of worked together to get the mark that’s before us here today.” He also noted its difference compared to the original request. “It’s definitely not a stand pat mark, it’s not a rubber stamp of what came over on May 23, to say the least.”

Before the subcommittee reported the mark to the full committee, it approved a set of three amendments. The first by Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.) authorizes the use of the national sealift fund for the construction of national icebreaker vessels, the second by Hunter for an administrative reorganization in the U.S. Code, and a third by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) providing an exclusion for icebreakers to procure certain components for auxiliary ships for the U.S. industrial base.

The mark authorizes multiyear procurement authority for icebreakers. In the bill the secretary of the Navy is authorized to act as a general agent for the secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating and to enter into a contract for up to three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers.

Earlier in the day Wittman and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced legislation making it the policy of the U.S. to achieve the 355 ship Navy. This “Security the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas (SHIPS) Act directs a fleet comprised of the optimal mix of platforms at funding levels subject to annual appropriations.

“This bill, which I am pleased to have worked on with my counterpart Senator Roger Wicker, sends that strong signal as we head into NDAA mark-up. A fleet of 355 ships will allow us to deter our adversaries, support our allies, and respond to threats and humanitarian challenges around the globe,” Wittman said in a statement.

Wicker added the 355 ship goal is achievable “with prudent planning and sufficient resources.  Building up our fleet is a national project and should be a source of national pride.” Wicker is Wittman’s counterpart as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower.

The SHIPS Act has bipartisan cosponsors in both houses, including SASC ranking member Sen. Mazi Hirono (D-Hawaii).

At a press briefing when making the announcement the sponsors agreed there are issues in achieving this goal. “I think it starts with repealing sequestration and being realistic about if you’re going to meet the threat then we are going to have to pay for this,” Wicker said.

He also acknowledged this is a “twofer” for Mississippi – protecting the nation and allowing commerce to go unfettered around the world as well as adding “thousands and thousands” of new jobs. He said they are happy to help the manufacturing base with this 355 ship goal but it is first and foremost about national security.

Wittman noted his subcommittee’s markup is the first necessary big step to get to the larger Navy.