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Opening Remarks for Ranking Member Courtney on Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Hearing on Navy Force Structure and Readiness

May 26, 2016
Press Release
Remarks as delivered

Thank you Chairman Forbes and Chairman Wittman for holding today’s hearing on Navy Force Structure and Readiness. 

Admiral Davidson, it is a pleasure to see you again. You and your entire team did an incredible job hosting me and my staff in Norfolk earlier this year. It was a great chance to see firsthand many of the same issues we will talk about here today.

Most importantly, thank you the witnesses here to share their deck plate perspective on the challenges that our Navy faces in operations and readiness. I know we will benefit greatly to get the on the ground view of the challenges facing our Naval forces.

As recent events around the world clearly demonstrate, the presence and capabilities of our forces on, below and above the seas are in higher demand than at any other time in recent history. From the north Atlantic to the South China Sea, from the Mediterranean to the arctic, our naval forces are deployed globally every day in the defense of our nation’s interests.

At the same time, these forces are under significant pressure in meeting growing operational needs and keeping pace with developments around the world in the face of limited resources.  As our witnesses can surely attest, their operational tempo is high and trending higher for the foreseeable future.

Over the last few years we have made significant progress towards fulfilling the current force structure goal of 308 ships. Thanks to the efforts of this panel and the leadership of the Navy, we are on track to hit this mark within the next five years. Given the resources and effort that goes into building each new ship, this is not an insignificant milestone.

However, it is starting point, not a finish line. Even when we meet the 308 ship goal, key shortfalls will remain. For example, we will face shortages in small and large surface combatants, as well as attack submarines, over the next three decades. Additional shortfalls remain in fighter aircraft and other capabilities that will be key to combating the challenges of the future.

That is why I was pleased that the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, shared with our committee in March that Navy is undergoing a review of its force structure assessment. Given the changing dynamics around the world, the growing demand for our ships and the increasing strain on our naval fleet, I welcome this reassessment of our force structure requirements. It would not shock any of us on this panel if this assessment showed the need for more ships to keep up with the demand and mitigate shortfalls in key areas like undersea forces.

Identifying the problem and setting a goal, however, are just two pieces of the larger puzzle. Resources still need to be applied, ships and aircraft still need to be built, and those same ships and aircraft need to be maintained. A ship that cannot deploy because it is in an unplanned extended maintenance availability does not help address the operational shortfalls we are struggling with today.  An extended deployment due those shortfalls puts strain on a sailor and their family. And, most importantly, a force that falls short of the levels of both capacity and capability needed cannot fully support our nation’s security interests or our objectives at home and around the world.

Many factors over many years have led us to where we are today. However, we must all recognize the role that Congress has played, in part, in creating the churn that we will hear about in this hearing. As the CNO told us in his March appearance before the committee, the Navy has started the last six years with a continuing resolution of some length, weathered a government shutdown and lingering uncertainty over the long term budget picture they have to plan under.

As Admiral Richardson told us in March, the fiscal uncertainty sends ripples through the entire system - the industrial base is hesitant to invest, and our people remain concerned about the next furlough or hiring freeze or overtime cap. This unpredictability adds to the burden on our Navy team and drives prices up.”

These are factors that Congress, on a bipartisan basis, can and must deal with if we are going to start reversing the troubling trends in Navy operations and readiness.

That is why hearings like this one is so important – we need to build a public record of what is happening today and what needs to happen in the budget debates to come. Chairman Forbes and I often share with witnesses that when they testify, they are not just talking to each of us here before you – you are helping to build a record that we can share with colleagues that are not on this panel. We hear and see these issues every day, but most of our colleagues do not – and when it comes time to make crucial decisions that impact the ability to properly resource the Navy, we need to show clearly the need that exists and the consequences of our decisions.

Thank you all again for being here. I yield back my time.