Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is pushing for the Navy to get authority to start advance procurement and incremental funding for two amphibious ships after the Navy’s FY ’20 budget request delayed the programs.

While the FY ’19 budget appropriated $350 million in advanced procurement for the Navy to spend on the unnamed America-class amphibious assault ship LHA-9 and the second San Antonio-class Flight II Landing Platform Dock LPD-31, the FY ’20 request does not fund either ship.

USS America (LHA-6)

Instead, the service is delaying LPD-31 to FY ’21 in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) to buy a third Virginia-class attack submarine (Defense Daily, March 14). The FYDP also pushed LHA-9 funding back to FY ’24.

During a Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Wicker said this will hurt ship suppliers.

“This move has the potential to disrupt the amphibious warship industrial base, as there is a long-lead time requirement for parts and materials, as we all know,” Wicker said.

He asked the Navy’s top acquisitions official, “instead of deferring procurement to 2021 and 2024 [for LPD-31 and LHA-9, respectively], could the Navy apply incremental funding to the LPD and LHA in FY ‘20? Is incremental funding more advantageous than deferring procurement? If Congress approves incremental funding in FY ’20 NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] for the LHA and LPD, would it allow the Navy to accelerate how it spends the $350 million that was appropriated in FY ’19?”

James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, responded if Congress gave the Navy that authority, it could start moving on the long-lead material. He noted the Navy has used the authority previously for LHAs and LPDs and they are looking at moving up LHA-9 procurement in next year’s budget.

He also said next year the Navy will try to pull LHA-9 procurement back from FY ’24. While LHA-9 was delayed to 2024 “from an affordability standpoint,” Geurts said the service is “going to look hard in the ’21 budget at potentially moving that to the left as funding allows because I’m also concerned with the seven-year break in that ship and I do not want to lose the excellent workforce we have cranking out LHAs right now.”

Buying LHA-9 in FY ’24 would lead to a seven-year gap between buying the future USS Bougainville (LHA-8) and LHA-9.

Artist rendering of LPD-30
(Image: Huntington Ingalls Industries)

“So it’s in the budget right now in ’24, that’s something we’re all motivated to do, both from a workforce standpoint as well as its contention with Columbia as it starts ramping up in ’24. Incremental authority on both those ships would allow us to get at that faster.”

The Navy plans to buy the first new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) in 2021 and the second in 2024 beforem moving on to serial production. The service is concerned that as it ramps up Columbia production that it not strain funding or the supply base for other shipbuilding programs.

After the hearing, Geurts told reporters that “the challenge is, without incremental funding authority, I can’t start work on those [amphibious ships] and using the funds that were authorized and appropriated in (FY) ‘19 until I have a full budget. So the idea would be with incremental funding authority we could start buying some of the long-lead [materials] and start getting work on those, not having a workforce, workload gap.”

Geurts said the seven-year gap between LHAs is longer than ideal from an acquisition and industrial base standpoint, so he plans to work within the Navy budget to see if it can fund that ship earlier to get closer to a five-year gap “which would be – I’d say more appropriate for that class of ship.”

The Navy previously funded the first LPD Flight II, LPD-30, in FY ’18 and on Tuesday the Navy awarded Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] $1.47 billion for the ship’s detail design and construction (DD&C) (Defense Daily, March 27).

HII builds both the LHA and LPD Flight II in its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard.