The House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee included an additional $2.3 billion to beef up Navy shipbuilding in its version of the defense authorization bill, providing for the purchase of a third Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and funds to either accelerate the service’s next generation amphibious ship or to buy another San Antonio-class amphib.

The subcommittee released its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Tuesday and will meet on Wednesday to amend it.

In a move that likely will appease the amphibious ship industrial base, the subcommitee’s mark calls for $856 million to either speed up procurement of the Navy’s next amphibious class, the LX(R) program, or for incremental funding for another San Antonio-class amphibious ship, LPD-29.

An MH-60 Romeo flying near the USS Freedom (LCS-1). Photo: U.S. Navy
An MH-60 Romeo flying near the USS Freedom (LCS-1). Photo: U.S. Navy

Industry advocacy groups such as the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition have said construction of LX(R) should be accelerated to fiscal 2018 to move from the LPD-17 class to LX(R) without a break in production. Currently, the Navy expects a 2020 contract award, but this additional funding would accelerate the program for a contract award in the last quarter of fiscal 2018.  

Should the Navy choose to use the funding to buy an additional LPD, one of the LX(R) competitors—Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] Ingalls Shipbuilding, the maker of the San Antonio-class— would be able to keep the production line hot.

The subcommittee’s mark also effectively reverses—at least for one year—the department’s plan to begin cuts to the LCS program of record, which the Defense Department directed be truncated from 52 to 40 vessels in the fiscal 2017 budget request. The Navy requested funds for two LCS—one from each of its prime contractors, Austal and Lockheed Martin [LMT]—but the committee proposed adding an additional $385 million for a third ship, effectively restoring funding to the levels proposed in fiscal 2016.

“The intention of adding this third littoral combat ship is that would allow us to at least bridge the time the Navy is going to need in order to get to the frigate design” in fiscal 2019, a member of HASC majority said. “Our assessment is that we could not get there with two.”

A minority staffer added that the third LCS in 2017 essentially acts as a second ship in 2018, allowing both vendors to keep producing ships until the Navy downselects to a single builder for the frigate program. 

Adding another LCS also cuts down the price per ship, which had grown by 20 percent in the Navy’s ’17 request because of a smaller buy.

The subcommittee $433 million to finish procurement of a DDG-51 partially funded in 2016. That item was ranked second on the Navy’s unfunded priorities wish list.

The proposal also provides full funding for the ships requested in the fiscal 2017 budget, including two Virginia-class attack submarines, 2 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 2 LCSs, and 1 LHA.

Fiscal year 2017 is the first year the Navy has requested incremental construction funding for its top priority, the Ohio replacement submarine. HASC moved that money to the National Seabased Deterrence Fund, a congressional-created fund that allows the new boomers to be funded separately from the rest of the Navy’s shipbuilding account. The subcommittee also provided that fund a new authority called “continuous production authority” that allows the service to build certain components ahead of need, such as the common missile tubes that are being developed with the U.K. navy. 

The subcommittee’s NDAA proposal would prohibit the Navy from decommissioning a carrier air wing, as well as moving forward on its “phased modernization plan” that would place seven cruisers in maintenance. The subcommittee wants the service to stick to the 2-4-6 plan it approved last year, which allows two cruisers to enter phased modernization in a year, for a maximum availability of four years, with up to six cruisers in modernization at a time.

In the area of aircraft, the subcommittee provides full funding for the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber development effort as well as procurement of 15 KC-46A tankers for the Air Force, 11 P-8A aircraft and 6 E-2D Hawkeye aircraft for the Navy.  It calls for the procurement of four additional MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopters, as well as three C-130Js and four C-40s on the service’s unfunded requirements list.

The subcommittee also provided full funding for the Navy’s unmanned carrier-based unmanned aircraft. The Navy in the 2017 budget request announced that instead of developing a drone focused on surveillance and strike capabilities, it would procure an unmanned tanker, now called the carrier-based aircraft refueling system or CBARS.

The Navy hasn’t formalized its requirements yet, but eventually the committee is going to want to see a strike requirement for CBARS, a member of HASC’s minority staff said. “I think an internal carriage would be a logical way to accomplish a strike capability.”

Simply relying on hard points would make it more difficult to carry the equipment needed for the refueling mission, he noted.

In munitions, the committee proposes doubling the procurement of Tomahawk missiles to 198 units, the minimum rate necessary to sustain production. It also included funds for over-the-horizon missiles and launchers for demonstrations aboard the LCS, another of the items on the Navy’s unfunded priorities wishlist.

The full committee will mark up the NDAA in its entirety on April 27.