Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, called the Trump administration’ FY ’19 Navy budget shipbuilding request not “robust” enough compared to what he thinks it needs.
The Navy requested about $22 billion to build 10 ships in FY ’19, which is only a modest increase over the FY ’18 request. This included funding the first two of 10 Virginia-class SSN-774 attack submarines in multi-year procurement, three Flight III Arleigh Burke class DDG-51 destroyers in a multi-year procurement for 10 ships, the final Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), one Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB), two John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oilers (T-AO), and one Towing Salvage and Rescue Ship (T-ATS) (Defense Daily, Feb. 12).
In contrast, Wicker said the request “wasn’t good enough” and wants numbers more in the range of $26 billion for 14 new ships. He was speaking at the McAleese/Credit Suisse defense programs conference today.
He also offered his preferences on what the FY ’18 omnibus funding bill should offer, assuming it adds an extra $7 billion-$8 billion over the Navy’s FY ’18 request. He said he would like to build a ninth big deck amphibious ship, two LCS ships to keep the yards going, and extra funding to more quickly add a 12th carrier to the Navy.
Wicker based his preferences off a December 2017 Rand report noting the U.S. is failing to keep the peace with potential adversaries like Russia and China. He said he has “gotten a bit tired” of Congress “giving lip service” to fleet requirements.
Wicker said he thinks the shipyards have enough capacity to increase production to these levels.
“I think we have much capacity in our yards and from the East Coast to the West Coast and up to the Great Lakes, I think the yards would tell you they have…they have plenty of capacity that’s not being used.”
The chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and projection forces, Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Ct.), echoed similar opinions at a Tuesday hearing on the administration’s FY ’19 Navy budget request.
Wittman was pleased the Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan was timely, but was “concerned that it does not properly advocate for the Navy the nation needs.” He said while it identifies the need for a 355-ship fleet, the plan only reaches 342 ships by 2039.
The Navy released its 30-year shipbuilding plan last month, but did not release a plan in 2017 (Defense Daily, Feb. 14).
Courtney agreed and said the FY ’19 budget request goes in the right direction requesting 10 battle force ships but the service’s plans do not achieve a 355-ship fleet until the 2050s. He said the Navy’s plans are leaving “substantial meat left on the bone” where industrial capacity exists.
Later speaking at the conference, Wittman said he and members of his subcommittee prefer the FY ’19 Navy budget numbers to be closer to Wicker’s numbers: a budget of around $26.2 billion and 13 ships.
“Anything less is absolutely unacceptable,” Wittman said.
He explained adding ships beyond the administration’s request is critical because over the next 20 years the Navy will retire 174 ships even as it is trying to increase the total ship count. That means building at least 230 ships in addition to conducting service life extensions on some current vessels.
Wittman cited the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis that to get to 355 ships the Navy needs to build 13-15 ships per year and spend upward of $26 billion, and that does not include the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.