The Senate Armed Services Committee poured nearly $1.7 billion into the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for Fiscal Year 2016 beyond the service’s request, in the hopes of starting to pay for later-year needs now before the Ohio Replacement Program bill hits, a committee aide told USNI News.
The committee gave $800 million for the Virginia-class (SSN-774) attack submarine program, $400 million for the Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) destroyer program, $199 million to the LHA-8 amphibious assault ship and more. The House Armed Services Committee did not make these additions and therefore they would only become law if the House and the appropriations committees agreed.
The SASC aide said the Navy and Defense Department as a whole have been sounding the alarm about the upcoming cost of the new ballistic missile submarine – costing about $96 billion for acquisition alone. The Navy has asked for $4 billion a year over 15 years in supplemental funding outside of its shipbuilding fund, but the aide said DoD has not proposed any specific plans to make that happen. This is the Senate committee’s first step in trying to address the funding shortfall for which a long-term plan is still needed, the aide said.
The aide noted that money in the SCN account is good for five years, so the Navy wouldn’t have to obligate the funding until FY 2021 – same year the first ballistic missile submarine will be built. The aide also made clear that the committee was not adding funding for ships the Navy has not requested – rather, this money will all go towards ships expected to be bought later in the Future Years Defense Program, but funding is being provided now while there is still some give in the budget.
The Navy’s budget request called for $14.3 billion, whereas SASC bumped that up to $15.9 billion. If Congress can afford to keep the shipbuilding account at about $16 billion a year for FY 2016 through 2018, that takes about $5 billion out of the gap between what the Navy historically receives in its shipbuilding budget and what it needs to pay for ORP, the aide said.
SASC added $400 million to the destroyer program, which the aide said could help pay for an additional destroyer in the multiyear contract in FY 2017 if the Navy secretary chooses to extend the contract, or it could begin to pay for the next ship in FY 2018 after the multiyear contract ends.
The $800 million for the attack submarines could serve several purposes, the aide said. The Navy already has funding in the budget for two boats a year, but the Virginia Payload Module will begin in FY 2019 and is only planned to go on one boat a year. The House Armed Services Committee already made clear it wants to see VPM on all new attack subs, and SASC would like to see the same. So this funding could support that effort. The Navy is also researching whether it could begin VPM production in FY 2018 instead, and while the aide made clear the committee is not trying to hasten the program, this funding could support an early start if the Navy believes that’s the right course of action. Any money not used up by VPM would go towards bringing down the ORP cost gap.
The committee put $199 million into the LHA-8 big-deck amphib to bump up its delivery date. The ship will still be procured in FY 2017, but this advance procurement money would help the Navy get started now and should bring the delivery date from FY 2024 to 2023. The Navy and Marine Corps only have 10 big-decks until this ship delivers, despite a stated need for 11, so the committee felt it was important to deliver the ship as soon as feasible, the aide said.
The committee is also seeking to accelerate the start of the Landing Craft Utility replacement, the Surface Connector X Replacement or SC(X)R, by two years. SC(X)R is a “modified repeat” of the LCU, the workhorse of the connector fleet that has been around since 1959, and was planned to deliver in 2022, USNI News has reported. The LCUs have already gone through a Service Life Extension Program, and some craft that went through that program are going through a second smaller effort to keep the 32-craft fleet in tact until the replacements arrive. The aide called this $32 million addition a low-dollar investment that would be a big help to the Marines, and added that the Navy told the committee the risk level of accelerating the program would be acceptable.
The House Armed Services Committee chose to add $279 million to accelerate the LX(R) amphibious dock landing ship by two years, and their Senate counterparts agreed with the need but could only find $80 million in the budget to put towards that program. The aide said the two authorization bills give the same $29 million in research, development, test and evaluation funds for the program, but SASC could only find another $51 million to begin advance procurement. The Navy chose to use the current San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious transport dock design as the basis for the LX(R) design, and accelerating the program would allow production line to flow seamlessly from the LPD to the LX(R) ships if the Navy chose to award the contract to LPD-builder Ingalls Shipbuilding.