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Ranking Member Courtney’s Opening Remarks for House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces Hearing on Naval Dominance in Undersea Warfare

July 14, 2016
Press Release

Thank you Chairman Forbes for convening today’s hearing on U.S. Naval Dominance in Undersea Warfare. I want to particularly thank our two witnesses, Rear Admirals Richard and Jabaley, for being here to share their expertise on this critical subject. I believe that this is the first time that you are both testifying before the panel, and we are glad to have you with us today.

Our nation’s leading edge in the undersea realm is truly one of the “crown jewels” of our military and our nation’s security. As others have testified before our committee, however, our current edge in this area may be significant -- but it is by no means guaranteed. Other nations are investing heavily in their own undersea forces, building both new capacity in their submarine fleets and new capabilities that will challenge our own forces in the coming years.

At the same time, demand for our own undersea forces from our military commanders is urgent and growing. A range of combatant commanders have testified before  us that they do not have the numbers of submarines needed to meet their needs, with only about half of their requests for undersea forces being met today.

For example, then-European Commander General Phillip Breedlove said that we are playing “zone defense” in the North Atlantic, and he needs additional submarines to meet mission demands. Pacific Commander Admiral Harris testified that he “suffers a shortage of submarines today” and that his “requirements are not being met.” He added that this ability to keep opposing submarines at risk “becomes a concern to me” as force levels drop. And, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, Sean Stackley, testified before this subcommittee that “we have a compelling need for additional attack submarines.”

We have a demand signal that is steadily trending upward but a fleet that, according to current plans, will decline significantly at the time we need it the most.  Thanks largely to decisions made long ago, our attack submarine force will drop below the current minimum requirement of 48 boats in 2025 to a low of 41 boats in 2029, as older submarines retire faster than we can replace them.

Our panel has led the way in efforts to mitigate this shortfall, such as accelerating the two a year build rate of new Virginia Class Submarines in 2007, and providing new contracting tools that help get submarines into the fleet faster. Given the trends we are seeing, however, it is clear we must do more.

I am pleased that the Navy is reassessing its submarine force structure requirements as part of the new Force Structure Assessment currently underway. Although I will not bet the paycheck of the Chief of Naval Operations – which I know he will appreciate – I do believe that this assessment will conclude what we all know to be true: that the 48 boat level, set when we had very different projections of undersea development and activity around the globe, needs to be higher in order to keep up with demand.

That is why I appreciate the work the Navy is doing to harness the capacity in the submarine industrial base to build additional attacks submarines. Thanks to the in-depth look that the Navy has taken at the industrial base as it prepares to meet the challenge of building attack submarines in addition to the new Ohio Replacement Submarine, we know that there is capacity to add a second submarine in 2021. The addition of this boat alone reduces the attack submarine shortfall by nearly 30 percent, as measured against current requirements.  Our subcommittee made clear its firm support of this plan in our mark of the 2017 defense authorization, and we are eager to see this plan put into action.

I strongly believe that the two a year build rate of new Virginia Class Submarine must be sustained even beyond 2021 at the same time we are building the Ohio Replacement, and will work with my colleagues on this panel to achieve that. Even then, however, we would not fully recover the shortfall either at the 48-boat level or a higher requirement. That is why a comprehensive approach is needed not just to build more submarines, but to make every submarine we build more capable, stealthier and farther reaching than ever before.

A number of these efforts are already underway. For example, the Virginia Payload Module will begin to be inserted into every new attack submarine starting in 2019 to not just augment our undersea strike capability but also deploy unmanned underwater vehicles and sensors. On the topic of UUVs, a range of new platforms will provide some of the reliable and autonomous on-station presence that will “dull, dirty and dangerous” missions that will free up our submarines for higher value missions. And, efforts like the Acoustic Superiority upgrades being inserted into the fleet as we speak will make sure that we maintain the edge in stealth needed to keep ahead of current and emerging threats.

I look forward to hearing the witnesses discuss current plans to expand submarine capabilities from torpedoes and Tomahawks to integrating UUVs, UAVs, as well as anti-air and anti-ship missile payloads.

In short, the submarine force will have to keep doing what it does best – finding innovative ways to do more within a constrained set of resources. The coming years brings significant challenge -- but also valuable opportunity -- has we embark on one of the largest increases in submarine construction and investment in our nation’s history. Congress has an important role to play here as well, from ensuring that we provide the Navy with the flexible tools it needs to build the Ohio Replacement without damaging other shipbuilding programs such as attack submarines, to providing the funding and predictability you need to plan and execute these top national priorities.

In closing, I would note that this year Connecticut is celebrating its “Submarine Century.” I recently helped to honor the 100-year anniversary of the founding of our nation’s first and finest submarine base in Groton. At a ceremony on the deck of the USS Nautilus, I noted the legacy of innovation and excellence that has been demonstrated time and again by our submariners from the First World War to today’s operations around the world. The same is no less true of the leaders before us, and I look forward to hearing their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

With that, I yield back and look forward to the discussion ahead.