The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) told Congress on Thursday that a new 30-year shipbuilding plan will be delivered to the legislature next month along with the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 defense budget.

Adm. John Richardson affirmed this in questioning before the House Armed Services Committee about surface warfare alongside Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer. The hearing particularly focused on actions resulting from the investigations into the deadly USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and Fitzgerald (DDG-62) mishaps.

Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy. Photo: U.S. Navy.
Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy. Photo: U.S. Navy.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) noted the Navy did not release a 30-year shipbuilding plan in its FY 2018 spending projection and Congress passed a statutory requirement for the Navy to move to 355 ships this year.

“Now in order for us to help you we need to know what the plan is. We haven’t received a new 30-year shipbuilding plan under this administration,” Byrne said.

Spencer affirmed that the Navy would release a plan with the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, slated to be released in early February.

He added the Navy is completing an analysis on three types of shipbuilding projections: A “keep everything warm line, which does not get us to 355 within an acceptable period of time; we can do a normalized curve which brings it in a little closer; or a very aggressive curve.”

However, Spencer said the service has to balance feeding their demand “and also, to be very frank with you, care for the industrial base.”

Spencer said the Navy is suffering the last boom and bust cycle and now has a “number of hulls that are coming up in a short period of time for decommissioning.”

But if the Navy can smooth that curve “that would be an excellent solution for both the industrial base and for us. That is all with one caveat – if in fact we need ships for whatever reason in an expedited rate we’re going to have to go there,” he said.

Richardson added that when the Navy releases its shipbuilding plan it will include a historical perspective going back to 1955 and show “the absolutely devastating effect of the peace dividend” on the industrial base.

“More than a dozen shipyards really shuttered down and [that] leaves us with an industrial base that has far less capacity now. So we need to really protect that treasure with everything we can,” Richardson said.

In response to probing by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) about the Navy investing in better simulators like high fidelity Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) simulators based in his district, Spencer said the Navy is looking to increase its spending on artificial intelligence (AI) and simulator work as part of the recent Strategic Readiness Review (SRR) and Comprehensive Review (CR).

The Secretary said between the SRR and CR, “we’re probably looking for $800 million over the FYDP [Future Years Defense Program], and its primarily in the area of schools, the simulators, bridge uniformity. Along those lines. But it’s not a tremendous amount of money in the grand scheme of things but it has great leverage.”

Richardson agreed current technology “can take you a lot further than it used to” and said the CR stated the Navy needs to spread the LCS simulator-type philosophy around so it can move those higher fidelity simulators and stand them up in places like naval facilities in Yokusaka and Sasebo, Japan.

The CNO told reporters after the hearing that additional funding related to CR recommendations started to enter the budget process for the FY 2018 budget and is in the FY 2019 budget request.

Richardson also told reporters the cost to implement the CR itself is probably closer to $600 million and when the FY 2019 budget request is released, investments in simulators and bridge uniformity in particular would be visible.

During the hearing Spencer underscored “AI is not just beginning to tip our scales” and with simulators “we’re exploring the application of artificial intelligence which actually would work with the individual people to find weaknesses and actually strengthen the areas of weakness.”

Separately, Vice Adm. Richard Brown assumed command of Naval Surface Forces a couple weeks early to replace Vice Adm. Tom Rowden. Rowden first requested to retire a few months early in September after several high-level Navy officials were fired following investigations into 7th Fleet surface vessel mishaps in the past year (Defense Daily, Nov. 30, 2017).

Rowden was set to retire on Feb. 2. Rowden said in a Tuesday statement he told the CNO he would step down earlier than planned. “This was a difficult decision to make, but I make it with the best interest of the Surface Warfare community and the Navy in mind.”

Visible damage to the USS John S. McCain’s (DDG-56) port side following a collision with the Alnic MC near the Straights of Malacca and Singapore. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released.
Visible damage to the USS John S. McCain’s (DDG-56) port side following a collision with the Alnic MC near the Straights of Malacca and Singapore. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released.

Brown previously served as commander of the Navy Personnel Command and has commanded a destroyer, cruiser, and Carrier Strike Group 11. He also previously served as strategy and policy branch head for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and commanding officer of the Surface Warfare Officers School Command.

The commander of Naval Surface Forces also serves as commander of Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Defense News reported earlier last week that Rowden’s earlier than expected retirement is the result of an independent Navy look at the issues leading to the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald collisions. The recommendation reportedly included disciplinary actions for Rowden that led him to step down earlier than planned.

The Navy said Adm. William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, designated Adm. Frank Caldwell as the Consolidated Disposition Authority to review accountability actions to be taken in relation to the destroyer collisions and also “take additional administrative or disciplinary actions as appropriate.”

On Tuesday the Navy said Caldwell will make Uniformed Code of Military Justice charges against several service members in relation to the collisions.

This includes Courts-martial proceedings and Article 32 hearings to review charges against the Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, two Lieutenants, and one Lieutenant Junior Grade. Charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide.

Additionally, the service will issue these proceedings to review evidence against the commanding officer of the McCain for dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide.

The Navy noted all persons alleged of the misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence and “Additional administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crewmembers.”

After the hearing Richardson told reporters that the criminal charges were limited to personnel literally on the ships at the time and “with respect to the proximate cause of the collisions, there was nothing that was outside the commanding officer’s and the crew’s span of control to prevent those collisions.”