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Courtney To Mattis On 2018 Navy Ship Budget: "We've Got To Do Better"

June 13, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC—Last night, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, questioned Defense Secretary James Mattis about the level of funding for shipbuilding contained in President Donald Trump’s FY2018 budget request.

During his questioning, Courtney told Mattis that the 2018 budget request is “a 308-ship Navy budget that was sent over here, not a 350-ship budget.” In addition he expressed concern that “this budget…undercuts that demand signal” to the shipbuilding supply chain that is needed to build a larger fleet, and that “we've got to do better than what was sent over.”

Courtney previously expressed concern over the lack of shipbuilding investment in the 2018 budget during a May 25 hearing in the Seapower Subcommittee. Read his remarks here:

Read the full transcript from last night’s questioning of Secretary Mattis below:


COURTNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to the witnesses for your testimony today.

I would like to go back to where the chairman and ranking member started off talking about this budget in the context of a lot of the expectations that have built up before it was submitted, in particular in terms of the Navy.

Over the last three years, we have had strategic reviews including a cooperative strategy for 21st century sea power. Actually, General Dunford participated in that review, again which talked about the need to grow the fleet larger than 308 ships. We had the Force Structure Assessment that Secretary Mabus submitted last December, which again put an exact number saying that we should build a fleet of 355 ships.

We had, in early 2017, an accelerated shipbuilding plan, which Assistant Secretary Stackley sent over, which actually showed a road map in terms of how we can jumpstart that process and called for a minimum of 12 ships in the 2018 budget to again get us moving in that direction.

Three force structure and architectural studies that --Navy architectural studies that this committee commissioned, which actually talked about even bigger numbers in terms of the fleet. And now we get a budget, which on the 23rd it actually had only eight ships. And on the 24th of May, it -- it grew a ship. But, you know, there's no debate really about the fact that, you know, what's going on out there and we hear from Admiral Harris, we hear from General Scaparrotti in terms of the demands out there that -- and we're living off a legacy fleet in terms of the ships that we have out there.

I do not understand the hesitation in this budget in terms of taking advantage of all the work that's been done over the last three years to have again a more robust shipbuilding plan than what was sent over.

MATTIS: Yes, sir. I think once we get our strategy review done so we can give you a compelling logic not just for a number of Navy ships but a number of Air Force fighter squadrons, bomber squadrons, the number of Army brigades, we've -- we've got to weave this -- this whole fabric together to make certain we have a joint force that's ready to fight.

I would love to have more ships. You're right. There are nine ships in this one -- in this 2018 budget. And we know that we need more, but we've got to put our -- get our – our plan together. As you know, we've been in place here only about five months, and we need to get our -- our analysis basically harvested from all those that you just mentioned and then come up with a planned way ahead. But as you know, ships are expensive and we've got to make certain that we have the budget to support it.

And right now, I -- I can't ignore the reality of the U.S. Army situation or the Air Force Fighter Squadrons, the Navy aircraft, all the other things we're having to spend money on.

COURTNEY: Well, again I mentioned all those prior studies, which really were built around a strategic foundation. Again it was not just a wish list that was put there. And -- and I would also just know, having been on the subcommittee for 10 years now is that shipbuilding is a long game. You got to send a demand signal out that the – not just the big shipyards, but also the supply chain, which frankly went through a shipbuilding holiday in the early 2000s and which really destroyed, you know, a really healthy industrial base and supply chain.

And -- and I think -- frankly think this budget, you know, undercuts that demand signal that people really – I think were really starting to believe in in terms of what we have seen over the last three years. So I would just say that I think our Subcommittee is not going to wait. I mean, I think you're going to see, frankly, some work being done on this side to really take advantage of the great work that all these studies have accumulated over the last three to four years and again which we hear in person from combatant commanders about the fact they are playing zone defense out there against the Chinese Navy and the Russian Navy. And that's really just not an acceptable state of affairs, particularly given the fact that we're going to see legacy ships coming offline in greater numbers than the replacement volume that a nine-ship budget calls for. That is a 308-ship Navy budget that was sent over here, not a 350-ship budget.

And again I have the highest respect for all of you. And I I think you understand, you know, what's going on out there and the need to grow the fleet. But we've got to do better than what was sent over.

I yield back, Mr. Chairman.