The Navy had to make cuts in systems to sustain the current force in the fiscal year 2022 budget request, including redirecting funding for a second Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) destroyer to other priorities, to prevent a hollow force, an official said last week.

During the West 2021 conference hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA, Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said that as the department built its FY ’22 budget request it focused on four priorities, apart from noting a change in administration and the topline it received.

The number one priority was paying for the Columbia-class new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine to maintain the service’s role in nuclear deterrence.

The next priority was “ready to fight tonight – that non-nuclear deterrent ready to go tonight,” he said. Gumbleton said that also speaks to readiness issues and “our readiness accounts had to be paid and paid upfront.”

The third priority was “getting after high-leverage investments that will meet our number one competitor, China. How can we get ready for that eventuality?”

The last priority was to grow the size of the Department of the Navy.

“Clearly, the Marine Corps is divesting to invest. The Navy is actually cutting forces to sustain what we have, so we don’t have a hollow force,” Gumbleton said.

He added if the budget controls allowed the Navy to grow capacity they would. 

Last month, Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger noted his service has done as much as it can internally to redirect funding towards modernization, including a 15 percent cut in headquarters funds (Defense Daily, June 17).

Gumbleton also expanded on the Navy’s process for requesting one DDG-51 destroyer rather than the expected two. 

“Long story short is, on the fifth and final year of the multi-year we looked at the topline for the Navy, the investments that we wanted to make within those four priorities as stated. The multiyear penalty as reported was a $33 million loss if we didn’t buy that extra ship. And then the Navy looked at investments in Columbia, paying the readiness bills to fight tonight, high-leverage investments for the future, and we took that $1.8 billion destroyer and spread it for readiness for today, modernization for tomorrow, and investments for the future,” Gumbleton said.

This matches what Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday have told Congressional defense panels on the destroyer decision (Defense Daily, June 25). 

Harker said it was the hardest decision the Navy had to make in the budget request and Gilday said it was an affordability issue that otherwise would require taking funds from manpower, spare parts and ammunition accounts, given the topline they were given.

Gumbleton also confirmed when the service moves to full-rate production on the new Constellation-class frigates, the Navy will seek a multiyear production contract on the class and he guaranteed “we will be seeking a multiyear for destroyers in our FY ‘23 budget request.”

Recently, Harker told a Senate panel the Navy intends to request another multi-year contract for DDG-51s in the FY ‘23 budget, lasting from FY ‘23 to 2027 (Defense Daily, June 25).

The Navy’s top unfunded priority on an annual list sent to Congress was the second destroyer in FY ’22 at a cost of another $1.66 billion on top of the requested $2 billion for one ship (Defense Daily, June 2).

On June 30, the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee advanced its FY ‘22 spending bill to the full committee, which includes funds to restore the second destroyer (Defense Daily, June 30).

Relatedly, Gumbleton reiterated while Congress gave the Navy contract authority to procure four amphibious ships in a multi-ship buy, DoD leadership seems unlikely to choose to do that this fiscal year.

The FY ‘21 defense authorization act included a provision allowing the Navy to procure three San Antonio-class LPD-17 amphibious transport dock ships and one America-class amphibious assault ship at once (Defense Daily, June 11, 2020).

Both ship classes are produced by Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HIII] Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss.

Gumbleton said the secretary of defense has a lot of other priorities beyond the Navy, “so there was a decision not to take up Congress on this authority to do a multi-ship and that speaks to changing priorities with a new team onboard.”

This is a more definitive view of the Pentagon’s likely decision after Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition Jay Stefany told a Senate panel last month DoD looks likely to defer such a decision until after completing a new force structure assessment.

 Stefany said the Navy and HII had a handshake agreement on what the multi-ship buy would look like if enacted (Defense Daily, June 9).

In response to the delay in using the provision, House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) introduced legislation to hold half of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office’s budget until the Navy conducts the block buy agreement (Defense Daily, June 15).