Chairman Courtney’s Opening Remarks for the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Markup of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon. Thank you to all our members joining us today in person and remotely as we consider the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee mark for the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
Before we begin our work today, I wanted to start by thanking our members and staff for their tremendous help with getting this mark together under unexpected circumstances. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the work went on and the result before us today is a testament to the strong legacy of bipartisanship and cooperation on our panel. Thank you to Ranking Member Rob Wittman for your partnership in this process, and to all our members on both sides of the aisle for your constructive input into this year’s mark.
I will take a few moments to highlight some of the key elements of our proposal.
Going back to last February’s budget submission, it became vividly clear that our subcommittee was facing an unprecedented challenge. Among other things, airlift and sealift were under resourced, the Navy’s shipbuilding budget was cut by 17% from last year, the request for new ships, as verified by the Congressional Research Service, was 7 – the lowest since 2009, and the statutory requirement for the Defense Department to submit a 30-year shipbuilding plan was, and continues to be, brazenly ignored. Our subcommittee was faced with a monumental task of fixing all of these gaps and shortfalls. With the help and input of all, I believe we have created a bipartisan mark that in fact addresses many, if not all, of these flaws in the budget that was foisted on us.
In particular, the mark corrects the hit to our critical shipbuilding industrial base and is aligned to the Navy’s actual requested priorities that were not included in last February’s budget submission. It recommends to the full committee that the Navy procure eight new battle force ships, one more than originally requested. This includes the first Columbia class fleet ballistic missile submarine, two Virginia-class submarines, two DDG 51 Arleigh Burke destroyers, one guided missile Frigate (FFG), and two T-ATS towing, salvage, and rescue ships.
This reverses one of the most confounding elements of this year’s budget, the elimination of a Virginia class submarine which disrupts the two-a-year build rate for the first time in a decade. This subcommittee has been fully committed to sustaining the two-submarine build rate, and previously approved $1.1 billion since 2018 to support the second 2021 submarine. We have heard Navy officials confirm that not only is there industrial base capacity to support this, but that restoration of their number 1 unfunded priority represents the most cost-effective and least disruptive way to mitigate our declining submarine numbers. To that end, in testimony before the full committee in February, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday explicitly said, “If you asked me, if I could give you another ship today, what would it be? It would be a Virginia class submarine.”
As I mentioned earlier, the Department of Defense has also put us in the untenable position of authorizing their shipbuilding request without any meaningful strategic or analytical context. The law is clear here. Since 2002, a 30-year shipbuilding plan is mandated to accompany the budget. The Secretary has stated his opinion that a 30-year shipbuilding plan is of “questionable value,” but the fact remains he is required to submit it. As Mr. Ron O’Rourke from the Congressional Research Service testified recently, Congress has reaffirmed its support for this law on a number of occasions regardless of political party. This unprecedented impasse is unacceptable and therefore our mark restricts some funding for the Office of Secretary of Defense until the 30-year shipbuilding plan is delivered, and prohibits the retirement of any Navy vessel until the Secretary of Defense provides a Navy force structure assessment.
Just yesterday, the Navy announced a milestone $10.4 billion contract to begin work on the first two Columbia class ballistic missile submarines-- the culmination of nearly a decade of preparation. In our mark we ensure the cost-effective and efficient construction of the first two Columbia class ballistic missile submarines by providing incremental funding authorization within the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund. This program is a national strategic priority NOT a Navy-only bill and we encourage the department to use the NSBDF in the way it was intended when this subcommittee enacted the provision-- to help mitigate cost issues with the Navy’s shipbuilding account.
In regards to projection forces, we were asked to accept permanent reductions in aerial refueling and tactical airlift force structure in return for investments in new, high end capacity. Some of this high-end capacity is not yet operationally ready. For example, the operational fix for the remote vision system for the KC-46A is years away. We cannot continue to buy non-operational aircraft and therefore it is prudent to reduce the amount of KC-46As to the minimum sustained production rate while ensuring we retain our legacy capability until the Air Force and industry partners deliver a working tanker.
We also establish a statutory requirement of 292 tactical airlift aircraft and continue investment in modernization of our workhorse C-130H fleet. Our subcommittee has consistently led the way in authorizing critical engine and propeller upgrades and recommend doing so again in our mark.
Finally, our mark continues our bipartisan focus on a crucial, but too often overlooked national security priority -- our sealift capabilities. The increasing age and decreasing reliability of our fleet was made clear in a recent exercise in which our sealift fleet met only 40 percent of its no-notice activation requirement.
This mark continues our support of a three-pronged approach of extending current sealift ships, buying used vessels and, in tandem, requiring the start of a domestic new build ship. The used market is insufficient to meet our needs and we must move ahead with an affordable new sealift ship. We also again authorize a new Tanker Security Program, continue support of the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel and recommend an increase in funding for the Maritime Security Program meant to address the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on our domestic shipping fleet.
This mark today could not happen without the tireless work of our subcommittee staff. I want to thank Phil MacNaughton, Kelly Goggin, Dave Sienicki, and eastern Connecticut native Sean Falvey for their work on our behalf.
Thank you, and with that I yield to Ranking Member Wittman for any remarks.