The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee voted Tuesday to send its mark of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to the full committee with amendments focusing on sealift vessels and the future frigate.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) sponsored one of the six en bloc amendments the committee approved by voice vote, which directs the Navy to enter into a contract for one sealift vessel for the National Defense Reserve Fleet. The ship would be set for delivery by September 2026 and the subcommittee authorizes incremental funding.

The Military Sealift Command, dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE 5) steams by while conducting an underway replenishment with the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

During the markup Courtney explained the subcommittee has previously authorized the Navy to acquire a limited number of built ships to meet their immediate needs to replace vessels retiring form the Ready Reserve force and maintain sealift requirements.

However, this authorization “came with the stipulation that the Navy may only exercise this option to its fullest extent if it also moves forward with the new sealift construction program, demonstrating this subcommittee’s longstanding interest in maintaining a strong domestic shipbuilding industry,” Courtney said.

Last year, the subcommittee similarly tried to push the Navy to buy two used ships to start recapitalizing the ready reserve force. At the time, HASC staffers said this was in reaction to the Navy not planning to make any moves until FY ’21 or ’22 (Defense Daily, April 26, 2018).

The chairman added the committee “is dismayed by the pace of the Navy’s acquisitions strategy for the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-Mission Platform, CHAMP, and have significant doubts about the program meeting its goal of delivering the first CHAMP vessel by 2026.”

He said Navy officials have publicly considered splitting CHAMP into two different programs “for fear that having a common solution will make it an unaffordable master of none.”

In January Capt. Scot Searles, strategic and theater sealift program manager, said the Navy was moving from a single common hull configuration to two hulls: one for sealift volume-intensive and another for people-intensive missions like hospital ship or submarine tender work (Defense Daily, Jan. 17).

Given “alarm bells going off about our declining sealift capability” in U.S. Transportation Command and the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the subcommittee now must consider alternative options, Courtney added.

He noted this amendment proposes the Navy use an acquisition strategy for the single new vessel similar to the one MARAD is already using to contract for its national Security Multi-Mission Vessel.

The Navy is directed to use a mature design and the commercial practice of hiring a construction manager to handle the shipyard selection and oversight of construction.

All of these provisions, including incremental funding authority are intended to minimize cost and maintain schedule efficiency “to deliver the Navy a new viable sealift platform much more quickly than with the brand new design,” Courtney said.

Separately, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) offered an en bloc amendment that authorizes the FFG(X) Future Frigate program to award a contract that does not domestically source propulsion or certain auxiliary equipment.

The future USS Wichita (LCS-13) conducts acceptance trials in Lake Michigan in July 2018. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

This includes auxiliary equipment for shipboard services, including pumps; propulsion equipment, including engines, reduction gears, and propellers; shipboard cranes; and spreaders for shipboard cranes.

Gallagher explained “essentially, we don’t impose that restriction on most warships we have right now, and so HAC-D([House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee) did include a Buy America provision for the frigate program.”

While the subcommittee has supported “Buy America” provisions for auxiliary vessels in recent years, Gallagher said this would have “devastating consequences” for warships like frigates and destroyers.

This “would basically exclude four of the five competitors from the competition if you apply the entire Buy America provision to the future frigate,” due to propulsion systems that are not completely domestically sourced, Gallagher said.

Gallagher said the Navy has studied the issue “and said it would increase costs that may take some or all of the competitors outside the competitive range for the contract. We’d also see, quote, a loss of design maturity and the FFG(X) DD&C award would be delayed a minimum of one year.”

Therefore, mandating domestic sourcing for these components would increase costs, lose commonality across the fleet, reduce competition, and cause a year-long delay “according to the Navy at least.”

He noted this is a well-intentioned effort but merely “didn’t fully tease out the secondary and tertiary implications over the next two years.”

Courtney agreed, noting with the bidding process currently underway, this might force the Navy to start a new bid with a new requirement. Ranking Member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) added they want to make sure they only use these kinds of provisions far enough in front for the Navy requirements process, rather than further on.

Other amendments include one by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) directing the Navy to advance the qualification and certification of advanced manufacturing processes to enable integrating 3-D printed components into undersea warfare platforms; one from Gallagher amending the Mobility Capability Requirements Study to include attrition assessment for surge sealift, tanker, and non-governmental vessels; and another by Gallagher directing the Navy to brief the subcommittee on plans to include U.S.-flagged commercial operators in wargames and exercises.