USNI News: Lawmakers to Focus on Ship Maintenance Funding in 2018 After 2017 Spending Plan Creates ‘Shortfall’
The Fiscal Year 2017 compromise spending bill has “shortfalls” in ship maintenance funding, but the House Armed Services Committee will look to increase funding for maintenance and modernization availabilities in 2018, two top committee members said today.
Reps. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the chairman and ranking member of the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said today that building more ships to grow the fleet to 355 has gained a lot of support, but the Navy will never reach that size unless its current ships are properly maintained.
Courtney added that current events may also help prove his case for the need for more ship maintenance dollars, as Navy presence around the world remains in the headlines.
“Unfortunately world events are creating an environment where I think the argument is going to be easy to make. If you look just in the last month in terms of the missile strike in Syria … and [U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry] Harris’ decision to extend the [aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70)] deployment by an additional month, that actually will be Exhibit A in terms of just how really knife-edge the options are for Navy leadership and the president in terms of just trying to cover the globe right now,” Courtney said.
Courtney said one struggle the Navy and lawmakers have in getting support for higher ship maintenance spending – compared to shipbuilding spending, for which the Navy asked for a recently unprecedented $18 billion in FY 2017 and ended up with more than $20 billion from lawmakers – is that shipbuilding has a constituency in almost all 50 states that in recent years has begun to organize and lobby. Ship maintenance has no lobbying equivalent.
Speaking of industrial base coalitions for amphibious ships, aircraft carriers and submarines, Courtney said, “there’s built-in constituencies around the country that come to Washington and lobby for boosting shipbuilding. You don’t have the same kind of political network when you talk about readiness and the public yards. The work is pretty much concentrated in those places where the yards are located. Having said all that, I think the reality is so stark, it’s kind of a must-do item for Congress.”
In addition to needing to spend more on ship maintenance availabilities, Courtney and Wittman agreed lawmakers would have to find money to fix up the shipyards themselves, with the Navy’s public shipyards that exclusively work on submarines and aircraft carriers unable to keep up with the current workload and experiencing massive backlogs of work.
“The public yards have issues, they’re antiquated and they are really backed up in terms of the work that is happening up there,” Courtney said.
Courtney spoke of “horror stories” in the attack submarine fleet – which is prioritized at the bottom of the public shipyard workload, with ballistic missile submarines being the top priority, followed by aircraft carriers – including USS Connecticut (SSN-22) taking four years instead of a planned two to complete repairs, USS Albany (SSN-753) missing an entire deployment cycle as it sat in the yard for four years, and USS Boise(SSN-764) losing its dive certification because it couldn’t even get into the shipyard due to such extreme backlogs. Meanwhile, he added, “you’ve got combatant commanders out there screaming for attack subs.”
Courtney added that Naval Sea Systems Command commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore recently told him the Navy was beginning to look at the “One Shipyard” concept created under former NAVSEA commander Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, in which private yards were more seamlessly brought in to support the public yards for carrier and submarine work.
“That’s not happening to the same degree as it was a number of years ago,” Courtney said, but offered it as a potential solution for today’s backlogs, as it would take potentially a decade or more to renovate and modernize the public yards.
With several “high profile delays” in submarine maintenance availabilities, as well as aircraft carrier gaps around the world and Navy fleet operations around the globe constantly being in the news, “the evidence is strong” as he and Wittman seek higher spending levels next year for ship maintenance activities.