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Rep. Courtney Presses Defense Officials on Lack of Required Shipbuilding Plan

February 26, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT), Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, questioned Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Budget Request. The DOD’s budget request proposed to siphon resources from critical shipbuilding programs in FY 21, and it immediately drew bipartisan criticism upon submission to Congress.

In his full remarks to Secretary Esper and General Milley, Rep. Courtney stated:

“In the Department’s submission this morning, it states that there are eight [new ships] that are in their budget plan. [CRS Naval Affairs Analysist Ron O’Rourke] actually determined that the LPD-31, which was listed, actually we funded and authorized last year. So there’s actually only seven. Two of those seven are tugboats – they’re salvage ships. We are not getting briefings in this committee about Russian tugboats or Chinese tugboats. We, in fact, then are left with really five combatant ships.

“Mr. Secretary, I have been on the Seapower Committee for fourteen years. You have to go back to height of the surge […] to see such an anemic shipbuilding request from the Administration. […] This is a punch in the gut to shipyard workers – the metal trades who are making life commitments to learn how to be welders and electricians and carpenters – to see this radical rudder-turn in this year’s budget in terms of shipbuilding. It is also a punch in the gut to the supply chain, who we have been coaxing back into shipbuilding after the lean years […] to make investments in terms of capital and hiring.

“Lastly, it’s a punch in the gut to the combatant commanders. In the last few days, we’ve had General Wolters at European Command talk about a 50% increase in Russian submarine patrol operations. We’ve had Woody Lewis from the US Second Fleet talking about the ever-increasing number of submarines, Admiral Davidson over in the Indo-Pacific saying that his ‘day-to-day submarine requirement is met by slightly only 50% of what I’ve asked for.’

“This budget fails the test in terms of a national defense strategy that is focused on our near-peer competitors. […] Just for the record, we are at 52 attack submarines today. With the retirement of Los Angeles-class submarines, which is going accelerate over the next four or five years, that fleet is going to shrink to 44 subs. Your budget keeps us in that trough into the 2030’s. It defies any analysis in terms of something that comports with the national defense strategy.”

In addition to submitting a budget request to Congress that contained the fewest combatant ships of any request in the last decade, the Department of Defense failed to submit to Congress its 30-year shipbuilding plan. This document is required by law to be submitted to Congress along with the Department’s annual budget request. Rep. Courtney and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) wrote to Secretary Esper on February 12 to request the missing documentation. Today, Rep. Courtney once again demanded that the Department comply with the law, and supply Congress with its 30-year shipbuilding plan:

“Article 10, section 231 of the US Code says that when a budget comes over from the Department of Defense, it ‘shall’ – ‘shall’ – be accompanied by a 30-year shipbuilding plan. This is not sort of a feel-good law. It’s because Congress needs headlights to see where you’re going because of the fact that shipbuilding is such a long game. [...] Mr. Wittman and I sent a letter to your department on February 12th, asking for the 30-year shipbuilding plan, which did not accompany the budget. And we still have not seen that 30-year shipbuilding plan today. When are we going to get that 30-year shipbuilding plan, which again is mandated by law?”

To read Rep. Courtney’s February 12th letter to Secretary Esper requesting the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, click here. To view Rep. Courtney’s full remarks from today’s hearing, click here.