Ranking Member Courtney’s Opening Remarks For Seapower And Projection Forces Subcommittee Hearing On The FY16 Navy Budget Request for Seapower and Projection Forces
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is my first public hearing as ranking member, and I am looking forward to working with you and our colleagues on the panel to continue the bipartisan and hands-on tradition of this subcommittee.
In addition to welcoming our returning members back to the subcommittee, I would like to highlight three new members on our side of the aisle who I think will make excellent contributions to our work this session: Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Gwen Graham of Florida, and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.
I would like to thank Secretary Stackley, Admiral Mulloy and General Glueck for being here today and for their service. I can think of no better collection of witnesses to get us started on our review of the 2016 budget.
Overall, I am quite pleased with the Navy’s portion of the President’s 2016 budget as it pertains to the jurisdictions of this subcommittee. In my view, the Department of the Navy’s proposal presents a balanced mix of new procurement, modernization and development. I remain concerned, however, about the looming impact of sequestration on the Navy’s plans. Our committee has heard time and again the harmful impact that these mindless across the board cuts will have, and I remain hopeful that this Congress can address this problem.
With regard to shipbuilding, the budget includes nearly $17 billion for nine ships and plans 48 more across the future years defense plan. For 2016, the budget supports critical work on our carriers, destroyers, small surface combatants and fleet support ships, and continued development of other important future ships. The last few years have seen a significant number of new ships put under contract and commissioned into service, and I look forward to continuing to make progress towards meeting the near and long term goals of our shipbuilding plan.
I am, of course, pleased to see the continued procurement of two Virginia class submarines in 2016 and beyond, as well as a continued commitment to the development of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM). VPM will help mitigate the loss of undersea strike capability currently on the horizon when the current fleet of SSGNs retire. I would note, however, that the Navy budget plans for only one of the two submarines to be procured in 2019 and 2020 to be VPM-enabled. If there are potential ways to further multiage the gap in undersea strike capabilities, I would be interested in hearing more about that and how Congress could possibly help.
One of the most pressing challenges the Navy faces remains the strain that the Ohio Replacement program will place on our shipbuilding plan without topline relief. There is no question this new capability is essential to our nation’s security, and any further delays present unacceptable risk. That is why there needs to be a clearly laid out plan for how these ships will be resourced that well understood by both the Department and Congress.
In the FY15 NDAA, Congress – led by this subcommittee on a bipartisan basis – created the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund as one option for addressing this concern. I would be very interested in hearing from the witnesses as to their thoughts on utilizing this approach – or their ideas on additional approaches or authorities – to ensure that we can fully resource this multi-generational investment with our other shipbuilding priorities. Our nation has successfully met this responsibility in prior SSBN recapitalization efforts, and I am confident that we can do so again.
The Navy just recently briefed me on the way ahead for implementing the phased modernization plan for cruisers and LSDs as directed by Congress last year, an area again in which this subcommittee was directly involved. At first look, this plan seems to present an achievable way of modernizing 11 Navy cruisers and LSDs while also extending the life of the cruisers to ensure the Navy has a capable ship well into the 2030s. I know this subcommittee will continue to examine that plan and I look forward to learning more about the details.
On the Marine Corps side, I was particularly pleased that Congress and the Navy were finally able to come to an agreement on the 12th San Antonio class amphibious ship. These are impressive ships, and this 12th LPD will not only increase the already stressed Marine Corps lift requirement but will also help to be a stable bridge to LX(R) now that the decision has been made to stay with the same hull form.
Finally, I am increasingly concerned with reports that a number of ship and submarine availabilities are experiencing significant delays and the impact that his has both on our industrial base on the day-to-day operational needs of the Navy. There are reports that some planned availabilities may be shifted from the public shipyards to the private yards in order to relieve the backlog. I would be interested in hearing what impact, if any, these shifts might have on new construction and the ability of the private yards to level their workforce to meet the additional demands.
Once again, I want to thank all of the distinguished witnesses for being here today and I look forward to hearing their comments.