Ranking Member Courtney’s Opening Remarks for Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Hearing on the Department of the Navy 2017 Budget Request for Seapower and Projection Forces
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on the fiscal year 2017 budget request for the Navy and Marine Corps. As always, I look forward to the testimony of our distinguished panel of witnesses about the issues we will consider in this year’s budget for programs in our jurisdiction.
This hearing and this budget comes at a critical time for our Navy and Marine Corps. 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. Yet, as this subcommittee knows all too well, 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. I believe that we need to ensure that we make the right investments in the capabilities of our seapower forces while also ensuring that they have the capacity to utilize them. In my view, the 2017 budget request makes important strides to towards this goal – but there are areas where I look forward to working on a bipartisan basis to make further progress.
With regards to capabilities, I am pleased that the budget reflects the feedback I have heard from our front line leaders about the need to provide them with tools with greater reach and punch. Among other things, the budget requests support for upgrading the anti-surface capabilities of the SM-6 and the Tomahawk, continuing investments in the AMDR radar for our destroyers and game-changing platforms like the advanced E-2D Hawkeye. I also appreciate the Navy’s recognition of the bipartisan concern this committee has shown about the need for the Virginia Payload Module, and the expansion in the number of submarines planned to receive this important upgrade to meet future strike and payload delivery needs.
This budget also proposes a way forward on integrating unmanned capability in our carrier air wing. I have long felt that it was important to begin incorporating this capability to our fleet, while ensuring that we have a path forward to expanding the range of missions it can provide in the future. Initiating this process with a tanking mission could expand the reach of the air wing while also relieving our strike fighters of this mission. I believe it is also important that this platform be able to fill the carrier’s longstanding gap in ISR while also providing some limited strike capabilities. Given the close look our subcommittee had taken at this program over the last two years, I look forward to examining the proposal in further detail to see how it lines up with current and future requirements.
Where I have some concerns, however, is in the capacity side of the request. Notably, this budget proposes a shipbuilding profile that is smaller in overall ship count than the 2016 budget, largely due to the truncation of the Littoral Combat Ship program. While I appreciate the budget pressures that the Navy is facing, I remain concerned that removing nearly a quarter of the LCS/Frigates prior to reaching the Navy’s stated requirement of 52 small surface combatants injects unacceptable warfighting risk. Further, I am deeply concerned that this change could have detrimental effects to the shipbuilding industrial base, which needs to be part of this discussion.
Additionally, this subcommittee is once again being asked to consider a modernization plan for the cruiser fleet. After years of significant debate on this topic, the 2015 and 2016 National Defense Authorization Acts supported a thoughtful compromise which enacted the ‘2-4-6’ plan that the Navy has already begun to implement. While Navy leaders have suggested that their new plan to put all cruisers into indefinite modernization in 2017 will save money and meet Congressional concerns, I believe that this proposal will see strong bipartisan scrutiny in the weeks ahead. Instead of reversing course on 2-4-6, I would be interested in working with the Department of Defense and Navy to find ways to fully maximize all the tools and funding avenues available to modernize these ships so they can continue to perform the important roles they play around the world.
Although not a 2017 issue directly, I believe it is also appropriate for Congress and the Navy to look ahead to ensuring that we sustain the two a year build rate for the Virginia Class Submarine. As the 2017 budget shows, the Navy’s shipbuilding plans to drop to one new attack submarine in 2021, the same year that the first Ohio Replacement Submarine is started, and several other years of reduced procurement through the Ohio replacement construction period. As Admiral Harris of Pacific Command and General Breedlove of European Command testified in the full committee this week, they and other combatant commanders are not getting the submarine resources they need today with a fleet of 52 attack submarines – and that problem will only get worse as the fleet drops to 41 by 2029. Just as we did in providing the authorization needed to achieve a 10 submarine block contract in 2014 for the price of nine, I believe that Congress and the Navy have the opportunity to further sustain the production rate as we look ahead to the next block.
On the topic of the Ohio Replacement Program, this budget is particularly significant because it marks the first time that design and construction funds for this national priority appear in the shipbuilding account -- making the debate over the funding strategy for this essential program more urgent than ever before. The question is not about whether the funds will be available to build the ORP – leaders from the President on down the chain of command have been clear that this submarine will be built – the challenge is doing so while also building the robust and diverse fleet of submarines, destroyers, amphibs, carriers and other ships we will need in the future.
Last year saw much debate over, and solid bipartisan support for, the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund. As we heard from experts from the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office late last year, the fund, and the expanded authorities this panel provided to it, could generate savings on the order of tens of billions of dollars and reduce pressure on the shipbuilding account. I know Chairman Forbes and I are committed to further advancing this issue in the year ahead, and I am eager to hear from the Navy about what additional authorities could provide further cost savings and efficiencies, as well as approaches to utilizing the fund moving forward.
Finally, over the last year Congress has made meaningful and bipartisan progress in limiting the impact of sequestration and the Budget Control Act. While mitigating the across the board cuts in 2016 and 2017 was important, the fact remains that our Navy, like the military at large, remains handcuffed by sequestration in 2018 and beyond. Many of the choices made in the budget that we will question today were made in large part due to the downward pressure that our military faces in the future. Even since passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act last fall, several world events have further demonstrated just how important it is for all of us on this committee and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress, to come together to make the compromises needed to protect our security and support the needs of our nation.
As we have in the past, our subcommittee will undertake a thorough and bipartisan review of the budget and, where needed, make adjustments in the best interest of our nation’s security on, below and above the seas. The discussion today will help start this process, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and our colleagues on the subcommittee.