RANKING MEMBER COURTNEY’S OPENING REMARKS FOR HOUSE ARMED SERVICES SUBCOMMITTEE ON SEAPOWER AND PROJECTION FORCES SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING ON SUBMARINE INDUSTRIAL BASE: OPTIONS FOR CONSTRUCTION
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.
Over the past two years, and even in recent weeks, the House Armed Services Committee has received testimony from our combatant commanders that their requirements for attack submarines are not being met. Admiral Harris of PACOM noted for the second year in a row that he only gets half the submarines he needs and General Scaparrotti testified that the North Atlantic region is experiencing Russian undersea activity not seen since the 1980s. And in December 2016, the Navy published a Force Structure Assessment which concluded that the attack submarine force requirement needs to grow from 48 boats to 66 boats.
Our subcommittee responded to this clear demand signal by giving the Navy the authority to procure up to 13 Virginia class submarines in the next block contract – three more than was planned. This plan, which passed on a bipartisan basis starting with this panel and is now law, was crafted to take advantage of capacity in the industrial base between years that we are building the Columbia class SSBN.
Last month, however, the budget we received from the Navy indicates no effort to utilize the authority granted by Congress to expand our submarine production plans. Conversely, at the same time, the Navy published its new 30-year shipbuilding plan which identified industrial base capacity in 2022 and 2023 where we could increase production to three Virginia-class submarines per year. Mr. Geurts will recall Admiral Merz explaining this a few weeks ago and explicitly explained the plan with visual aid charts to that effect.
Over the past few months, unfortunately, as the next five-year block contract is under consideration, we have struggled to get clear answers on whether the Navy is going to work with Congress to give the country an option to heed the demand signal of our combatant commanders. As I think our witnesses will recall, the last 5-year block contract, signed in 2014, represented a cooperative effort by Congress and the Navy to achieve a ten-submarine block. Initially, the Navy’s plan was to build nine submarines in that block. With the Navy’s input, Congress provided initial funding for a tenth boat and provided incremental funding authority as a way to finance the 10th submarine. The Navy and industry then negotiated an option to add an additional 10th submarine, which the Navy then requested and Congress then funded. It was the ultimate “win-win” for the navy. As former Secretary Mabus was fond of saying, the country “got ten submarines for the price of nine.”
I, for one, am therefore baffled by the mixed messages that the Navy is sending Congress and the industrial base with the contract being negotiated right now. Failure by the Navy to make a strong push for these additional submarines now will only make these options significantly more challenging and significantly more expensive in the future. I expect our witnesses will finally provide clear answers today about the Navy’s intention to utilize the strong support this panel has provided to grow the submarine production plan.
As we work to add more submarines into the pipeline, I am also concerned about ongoing challenges in managing our existing fleet. Ongoing delays and backlogs in repair availabilities have caused attack submarines to sit idle at their piers for months and in some cases years. Even with the efforts by the Navy to reduce repair backlogs, the latest projections still show nearly seven years of idle time as submarines sit at the dock waiting for work to begin.
At the same time, our industry partners are working to ramp up a workforce to meet the demand of building new Virginia class and Columbia class submarines. I have repeatedly urged for a return to the “one shipyard” policy of years past, where submarine repair work was spread across the public and private sector to manage workload shortages and backlogs in the yards. I believe returning to an approach like this would both help industry smooth their workforce ramp up in the years ahead and get our submarines where they need to be: out at sea, not tied up and unable to operate.
Finally, the Navy has identified the Columbia-class submarine as its number one acquisition priority. Over the years, we have worked to respond to the Navy’s concern about the cost and schedule for the program by creating the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund. Despite some initial hesitation, I have been encouraged by the growing acceptance by the Navy of the potential of the authorities provided in the fund.
Last year, we had to fight in conference to ensure that the final defense authorization agreement included expanded continuous production authority that the Navy said would save $383 million in savings starting in 2019. And yet, the Navy’s 2019 budget has no plan to utilize these additional authorities. This subcommittee deserves a clear understanding of why the Navy has determined why it will not pursue these additional savings.
There is no doubt that we face significant challenges as we ramp up on our submarine construction program in the coming years. But it is also a time of great opportunity.
We need the Department of the Navy to be fully committed to working with Congress if we are going to give our sailors and our military commanders they are telling that they need to protect our nation.
I look forward to receiving straightforward answers to many of the questions I’ve posed and I yield back.”