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Chairman Courtney Highlights Growing Importance of Navy Submarine Fleet, COVID-19 Readiness in First Seapower Subcommittee Hearing Since Early March

June 5, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, gaveled in the Subcommittee for its first official hearing since March 11th. The hearing, titled “Future Force Structure Requirements for the United States Navy”, was the first since the House of Representatives adopted new rules allowing for subcommittees to conduct official actions using technologies that allow Members to participate remotely—the first hearing of its kind in the Seapower Subcommittee’s history.

During yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Courtney questioned Former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), Specialist in Naval Affairs Ronald O’Rourke, and Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, regarding the Navy’s force structure requirements, the growing importance of its submarine fleet, and the Navy’s response to protect its sailors and other members amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Chairman Courtney also discussed the continued failure by the Navy and the Trump Administration to provide Congress with a 30-year shipbuilding plan, which is required to be submitted along with the President’s annual budget request. Chairman Courtney and a bipartisan group of lawmakers expressed serious concerns in February when the President’s budget request not only proposed building the fewest number of combatant ships in over a decade while siphoning resources from critical shipbuilding programs, but was also submitted without a 30-year shipbuilding plan or a Naval Force Structure plan. To date, Congress has yet to receive either document.

In his remarks, Chairman Courtney stated:

Courtney: “We have been promised by the Department of the Navy an updated Force Structure Assessment, late in 2019, then early in 2020, then a little later in 2020, and now again. We to this day still have not received an updated Force Structure Assessment. In addition, we did not get a 30-year shipbuilding plan, which is required by law

“As we approach the mark for 2021, the Committee’s going to use its good judgement. We’ve got experienced members that have been through a number of these situations in the past. […] A lot of us on this Subcommittee know full-well that when you talk about Navy budget decisions, it's a long game and you really cannot allow a pause button to get hit from one year to the next because frankly it carries a legacy and a hangover that is really just going to basically haunt future Congresses and future naval leaders."

Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, responded to Chairman Courtney regarding the 30-year shipbuilding plan.

O’Rourke: “The annual 30-year shipbuilding plan is intended to provide Congress with supporting information for conducting effective oversight of DOD plans for the Navy and for assessing and marking up the Navy's proposed shipbuilding budget,” said Mr. O’Rourke. “The 30-year plan does this by helping Congress assess a number of key issues, including whether the Navy intends to procure enough ships to achieve and maintain its force level goals, whether DOD ship procurement plans are likely to be affordable within future defense budgets and whether the Navy's making reasonable assumptions about ship procurement costs and service lives. It also helps Congress assess the potential industrial base implications for the Navy's intentions for ship procurement.


“If DOD does not submit an F.Y. '21 30-year plan, it would be the first time since F.Y. '06 that an administration not in its first year in office was required to submit a 30-year plan but did not do so. The delay in submitting the F.Y. '21 30-year plan raises a potential institutional issue for Congress regarding Executive Branch compliance with statutory requirements that are intended to support Congress's role in conducting oversight of Executive Branch operations and authorizing and appropriating the funds.

In addition to highlighting the importance of the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, Chairman Courtney also reiterated the growing importance of submarines to the Navy’s force structure requirements. Courtney noted that Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.) had previously referred to America’s submarine force as the “invisible queen on the chessboard,” and that Mr. O’Rourke had described them as “the jewel in our fleet.” Despite the critical role submarines play in the Navy’s force structure, however, the 2021 White House budget request proposed departing from the 2-submarine-per-year build rate that the Navy has relied upon, which would result in an even greater shortfall in Navy submarines.

In response to Chairman Courtney’s questioning, Admiral Roughead responded:

Roughead: “Absolutely, and I think, to overlay a couple of the other things that I mentioned, there's no question that the demand for submarines, particularly in the Western Pacific, is going to increase. So, you have that factor that needs to be considered. There is also little doubt in my mind that activity in the Arctic is going to intensify and the ship of choice up there, in my view, is going to be the submarine

“So, in addition to this drastic dip that exists, I also envision significant increase in demand, and I don't want to be a prophet of doom, but I think it's important to think about combat or mission loss of submarines. In World War II we lost 52 submarines. Very few people recognize that fact. So you know, those are factors that have to be accounted for and overlaid on that force structure chart, in my view.”

To watch yesterday’s full hearing, click here.