Ranking Member Courtney's Opening Remarks For House Armed Services Subcommittee On Seapower And Projection Forces Hearing On The Department Of The Navy Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request For Seapower And Projection Forces
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We are joined today by three distinguished witnesses to discuss the fiscal year 2018 budget request for the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Before we get into the substance of the hearing, I think it is important to remember the context in which we are considering the budget request submitted yesterday. In December of last year, the Navy under President Obama and Secretary Mabus released an updated Force Structure Assessment (FSA) that laid out a requirement for increasing the fleet from 308 ships to 355. Among other factors, the FSA noted that increased operations, lengthened deployments, and changing conditions around the globe necessitated the boost.
Then, in the early days of the Trump Administration, the Navy submitted an accelerated fleet plan that, in the words of Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley, “offers a first step towards a framework to develop strategic guidance and identify the investments needed to reinvigorate our naval forces.” That plan identified 29 additional ships that the Navy found could be accelerated in support of the larger fleet identified in the FSA.
And, just last week, Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson released a white paper noting the urgent need to boost the fleet as quickly as possible. As he concludes in that paper, “time is of the essence.” I agree, and like many of my colleagues on this panel, I have eagerly awaited more details on how the Trump administration would move forward on the bipartisan push for a larger and more capable Navy fleet.
Unfortunately, the shipbuilding budget released yesterday reflects none of these inputs. Instead, it requests funding for only eight ships and submarines -- the same level as planned by the former Obama Administration prior to the December FSA, lower than the 11 ships provided for in the 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Act we just passed out of Congress this month on a bipartisan basis, and lower than the 12 ships the Navy identified in its accelerated fleet plan for 2018. In other words, the Trump Administration has proposed a 308-ship budget for a 355-ship plan.
This proposal really begs the question, what is this administration waiting for? The table was set for this administration to take the work that had been done during the prior administration to hit the ground running towards a larger fleet. While I understand that the Defense Department is planning a wider review of its defense strategy that will guide future investments, I can think of no element of the department that has as solid a foundation to start from than shipbuilding. A year lost in shipbuilding can never be regained -- and that is unfortunately what this budget proposes.
Shipbuilding is a long game that relies on certainty in the Navy’s plans and intentions. Nothing in the budget, however, provides any new clarity on where this administration intends to go with the buildup of the fleet. With no 30 Year Shipbuilding Plan, and a future years defense plan that defense officials have called a “placeholder,” Congress, industry and the American people are left guessing as to the way ahead. For some shipyards, this could be a make or break issue for them and we need to tread carefully to ensure that we have a well-rounded industrial base in the future.
We have a lot of hard work ahead in the next few weeks to craft our 2018 defense authorization bill in an extremely truncated timeline. I hope that we will use the modest shipbuilding request submitted to us yesterday as a floor, and not a ceiling, as we look for ways to further support the Navy’s fleet expansion and the industrial base we will need to support it.
That is not to say that there are not elements of this budget that I strongly support. One area of welcome progress is in our undersea forces. In addition to fully funding two attack submarines in 2018 as planned in the 2014 multiyear contract, the budget supports a long-sought priority of mine – the restoration of the second attack submarine in 2021, sustaining the two a year build rate in the next block contract. That means that we can expect at least 10 submarines in the next block, while we also look for additional opportunities to increase that rate where capacity exists to meet the increased fleet requirements of the FSA.
In addition to supporting continued development and early production on the Columbia-class SSBN, the budget reflects the Navy’s use of key authorities that we have provided through the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund (NSBDF). I note that nearly $100 million is allocated in this budget for continuous production of missile tubes and advanced construction activities on the first Columbia class boomer, SSBN-826. As we well know, the authorities in the NSBDF have been projected to save hundreds of millions of dollars if fully utilized, and I look forward to hearing more from the Navy about how they intend to use these authorities in 2018 and beyond.
I also strongly support the increased focus on restoring the readiness and operational availability of our fleet through expanding funding for ship depot maintenance. This is a topic that Chairman Wittman and I recently discussed a forum together, and one that is absolutely critical to ensuring that we can fully utilize the fleet we have today as we build towards the future. It appears that the budget intends to leverage capacity in the private yards to support maintenance priorities, as well as focus investment in our shipyard capacity and infrastructure. The backlog in ship availabilities is immense, and we clearly need to do more to address this problem in 2018 and beyond.
Finally, so much of what we do on the 2018 budget will depend on how we address the “sword of Damocles” hanging above this entire process – the Budget Control Act caps and the threat of sequestration. Much has been said lifting the defense sequester at the expense of non-defense spending such as STEM education and job training funding outside of the Pentagon. I could think of no worse approach for the overall security and well-being of our nation. We cannot expect to embark on a buildup of our ships, aircraft, or other advanced technologies if we are at the same time gutting education, workforce development, skills training and other efforts at closing the jobs-skills mismatch that is rampant in defense manufacturing all across the country. The only way we are going to extract ourselves from our current budget quagmire is through a balanced approach that ensures that we meet all the needs of our nation.
Thank you, again, to our witnesses for being here to discuss these important issues.”