Ranking Member Courtney’s Opening Remarks For Seapower And Projection Forces Subcommittee Mark up of HR 1735, FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is my first mark-up as Ranking Member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and I am proud that this measure reflects the bipartisan and in-depth work that our panel has done over the last several months. I want to thank you, our office and committee staff and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working together to produce what I believe is a very solid mark.
The jurisdiction of this subcommittee covers a wide range of programs and priorities that are absolutely critical to our nation’s defense today and well into the future – from airlift and long range strike, to surface warfare, amphibious operations, undersea dominance and support for our domestic shipbuilding maritime industrial base. After months of hearings, briefings and work across the aisle, the mark before us today makes many positive contributions to the needs of our Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Maritime Administration. I am pleased the mark makes a number of critical changes to enhance the ability of the services and agencies under our purview to meet the missions and challenges ahead.
Among other things, the mark:
- authorizes funding for construction of the CVN-79 and CVN-80, and provides additional economic order quantity (EOQ) authority on construction of CVN-80 and CVN-81 to save costs and increase efficiency;
- provides full support for the overhaul of CVN-73, an issue this subcommittee has been very active on, as well as long term authority for overhauls of five additional Nimitz-class carriers;
- supports the budget requests for two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and allows the Navy to move forward with Flight III upgrades within the current multi-year contract;
- authorizes the budget request for three Littoral Combat Ships, a program that our subcommittee will continue to closely monitor as the Navy moves ahead with its it plan to incorporate new capabilities and improvements into the ships
- builds on our efforts last year to enhance our amphibious assault capabilities by authorizing funding to complete LPD-28, as well as advanced procurement for the fifth Afloat Forward Staging Base and accelerating new LX(R) amphibious ship by two years;
- supports procurement of the first TAO(X) auxiliary oiler ship, but moves this program back into the National Defense Sealift Fund;
- restores shortfalls in key capabilities such as the Tomahawk and MQ-8 Fire Scout; and,
- fully supports two key projection forces programs under our oversight, the KC-46A Tanker and the Long Range Strike Bomber.
I am particularly proud to have worked with Chairman Forbes on a number of provisions related to the future of our undersea fleet—an area we have worked closely together on for several years. In addition to fully supporting the ongoing two-a-year construction rate for our Virginia Class Submarines, the mark notes our bipartisan concern about the current plan to outfit only about two-thirds of future attack submarines with the Virginia Payload Module (VPM). As Navy officials have routinely testified before this subcommittee, the VPM is the only solution available to retain the undersea strike capabilities lost when the SSGNs retire in the 2020s and this plan, unfortunately, falls short of that important goal. Our mark notes our support for fully incorporating VPM into boats within Block V and beyond, and will remain focused on this important issue as we continue to support our undersea programs.
This mark also continues our focus on the Ohio Replacement Program. Last year, our subcommittee took the lead on creating the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund to provide the space for this top-priority program for the Defense Department and the Navy to be funded outside the regular shipbuilding account. The proposal before us today continues to move this important effort forward by:
- directing the $1.4 billion requested for research and development of the ORP in the budget request into the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund;
- expanding the range of tools available for developing and building the submarine, including incremental funding and Economic Order Quantity (EOQ) authorities; and,
- clarifying that reprogramming authority provided in the creation of the fund last year extends to the entire Defense Department, not just the Navy.
Building the Ohio Replacement poses a significant challenge to our Navy and requires creative solutions to the well-known pressure that this program will put on our other shipbuilding programs without top-line relief. It is important to note that our nation has faced the challenge of building and replacing our sea-based deterrence platforms in the past and found the will to get it done. I believe that the same is true today and that with the authorities and support this mark provides, we move closer to the goal of replacing the SSBN fleet while preserving other vital shipbuilding priorities.
Another important but too often overlooked aspect of our subcommittee’s work, the Maritime Administration, receives strong support in this mark as well. MARAD plays a key role in supporting our domestic shipbuilding and repair capabilities, as well as ensuring a strong workforce of trained mariners. To this end, I am pleased that our mark fully authorizes the agency’s request to begin planning the development of a new National Security Multi-Mission Training Vessel to replace the aging fleet of training vessels provided to our six state maritime academies, and provides support of other homeland and national security missions, disasters, and humanitarian needs.
While Chairman Forbes and I agree on about 95 percent of this bill, I regret that we differ on the changes it makes to the so-called “2-4-6” modernization plan for our Ticonderoga-class cruisers. I share his strong support for our cruiser fleet and the key role in plays in defense of our nation, and believe that we agree fundamentally on ensuring that they are modernized in the most efficient way possible. I have been briefed on the Navy’s plan to move forward with the modernization plan agreed to in last year’s authorization and appropriations bills, and believe that it is a sound compromise to limit costs in a budget-constrained environment while extending the lives of these important ships. Reducing the modernization period from four years to two, however, inserts additional uncertainty into the program just as the Navy is working with industry to move forward on the plan and eliminates any savings to the Navy at a time when, even without sequestration, the service faces significant fiscal pressures.
Despite that area of contention, I am pleased with the level of agreement this subcommittee has achieved with respect with this mark and I am proud of impact we are making on the future of our nation’s seapower and projection forces. With that, I urge adoption of the mark before us and yield back my time.