Ranking Member Courtney's Opening Remark For House Armed Services Subcommittee On Seapower And Projection Forces Hearing On An Independent Fleet Assessment Of The U.S. Navy
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today’s hearing on “An Independent Fleet Assessment of the U.S. Navy”. Since this is our panel’s first public hearing in the 115th Congress, I want to also congratulate my friend Rob Wittman for earning our panel’s gavel, as well as welcome our new and returning members.
One of the primary focuses of our subcommittee has been ensuring that the Navy and Marine Corps are properly sized and equipped to meet their critical and growing requirements around the globe. I am most proud that we have worked year after year to reverse a steady decline in the fleet and in shipbuilding rates. In the last eight years, we helped to double the number of ships under contract compared to the prior eight years – arresting a steady decline the fleet and putting us on a path to grow our Navy. I think it speaks volumes to the work that we do here that the 2017 defense funding bill we will vote on today adopts many of the changes this panel first proposed last year.
Even with this work, we know that our sea services have grown increasingly strained through repeated deployments, high operational tempos, and shortfalls in maintenance. With all that they do each day around the world, it has long been clear that a larger fleet is ultimately needed to keep pace with the demands that the nation places on our forces on, below, and above the seas.
Last year, the Navy concluded a nearly yearlong re-assessment of its force structure needs that came to that same conclusion. Among other things, the new Force Structure Assessment, or FSA, increased the total fleet requirement from 308 ships in their 2014 plan to 355. In particular, it bumped up requirements in key areas like submarines and large surface combatants, among others. The updated fleet goal reflects the hard reality that our sea services will only see demand for their presence and capabilities increase as we look to the current and projected challenges we face around the world.
While the new FSA serves a new benchmark for the Navy and Congress to strive to meet, it leaves many key elements needed to achieve the larger fleet unanswered. For instance, we recently heard testimony in the full committee that the Navy continues to face significant challenges in meeting repair and maintenance requirements on its ships and submarines today. Given that shipbuilding is a “long game” and the first new ships under the FSA will not come online for several years, it is crucial that we maintain the fleet we have today even as we add new capabilities and platforms in the future.
Additionally, we need to be mindful that achieving and sustaining the 355-ship Navy will be an effort beyond any single budget year, session of Congress, or presidential administration. Even in the most optimistic of projections, this effort will be marked in decades, not years. We cannot simply build more of the ships we need in 2017 and expect that they will meet the needs of the 2030s. Instead, we need to build a fleet that can evolve and adapt, embracing new capabilities and concepts. We need to lay a thoughtful foundation that will guide future decisions not just in how many ships we build, but also in how we support and sustain them.
That is where the independent assessments we will hear about today will be useful to guide this critical discussion. Congress, through its oversight role, directed the Navy to conduct three distinct studies on future fleet architectures independent of the FSA. This independent analysis is advantageous to both the Navy and Congress’ understanding of the long-term strategic investment that will be required to build up and recapitalize the fleet. As important, they provide new ideas and concepts that should guide the Navy’s continued planning for the future fleet.
Neither the FSA nor the studies presented here today, however, lay out a detailed ‘how to’ guide on how Congress should move towards the larger 355-ship fleet. How we allocate resources to ship maintenance, updated capabilities and new construction will have a profound impact on our Navy and Marine Corps team, and our industrial base for decades to come. It is a weighty challenge – but with the expertise of our subcommittee, and the input of witnesses like those here today, I am confident that we can hit the ground running in the weeks and months ahead.
I want to thank the Chairman for holding this hearing today and to the witnesses for appearing here today. I look forward to their comments.