By Geoff Fein

Lawmakers yesterday questioned the Navy’s ability to achieve a 313-ship fleet, given the service plans to buy eight ships in the FY ’10 budget but decommission seven in the same time period.

Additionally, one House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member questioned whether the Navy should take research and develop funds planned for the DDG-1000 and Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement and use them to buy fighter jets and ships.

Ranking member Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) asked Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead if $500 million slated for research and development (R&D) on DDG-1000 is more important than buying additional fighter jets to fill the tactical aircraft gap the Navy is currently facing.

Even though the funds are listed as research and development, they are vital to the construction of DDG-1000, Roughead noted.

“That money completes the computer software for the computing environment on DDG-1000,” he said.

After a 30-minute recess for members to vote on the House floor, McHugh again raised the issue of taking funding from research and development efforts and applying it to current needs. This time, he asked Roughead if the Navy needed to spend R&D on the Ohio-class replacement given there is not yet a validated requirement for the submarine.

“Would you spend it on an unvalidated requirements or for strike fighters,” the congressman said.

Roughead told HASC members the Navy is at the same point in time when it began development of the SSBN.

“It remains a key part of the national deterrent,” he said of the planned strategic sea based deterrent. “The length of time it takes to develop this kind of submarine, we are in that window and believe that investment is prudent at this point.

The Navy is requesting $495 million in R&D dollars for the SSBN(X), the follow-on to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine.

The R&D funding is for the propulsion plant and missile compartment (Defense Daily, May 8).

“Even though the requirement may not have been validated by a posture review…the fact that submarines cannot be extended as easily as some of our surface ships may be…we believe it is prudent to begin making the investment so as we move to NPR (nuclear posture review) we will not risk continuation of that important deterrent,” Roughead said.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) questioned the Navy’s decision not to provide a shipbuilding plan along with the FY ’10 budget.

Forbes asked Roughead where the Navy’s current plan could be found and whether the service chief is comfortable certifying that the FY ’10 budget will help the Navy achieve its goal.

“I’m, pleased with the eight we have and the seven we have advanced procurement for,” Roughead said. “It’s the path for our future. This budget defines what we are asking to have authorized this year.”

Forbes, however, continued to question the lack of a shipbuilding plan. “Are we saying we don’t have a plan until the QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review) comes out? Do we have a plan anywhere today?”

“In regard to the shipbuilding plan, the budget we have put forth today, I am pleased with the eight we have and the seven we have advanced procurement for…that defines the path for our future,” Roughead said.

“This budget defines what we are asking to have authorized and appropriated this year,” he added, including the advanced procurement for seven ships in FY ’11.

The CNO noted that although the Navy is going to decommission seven ships this year and five in FY ’10, at the end of FY 1’0 the Navy fleet size would be up by four ships.