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Hagel Defends Littoral Combat Ship Cap

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Department of Defense Comptroller Robert Hale testify before the House Armed Service Committee on March 6, 2014. Department of Defense Photo.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Department of Defense Comptroller Robert Hale testify before the House Armed Service Committee on March 6, 2014. Department of Defense Photo.

Defending the decision to cap the littoral combat ship (LCS) buy at 32, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday “it was a big, big question whether we want a sixth of our Navy” in those vessels.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on the Pentagon’s $496 billion budget request, he said that in the Pacific the Navy would be “confronting a much more sophisticated adversary” requiring required the fleet to have ships that are more survivable, with more combat power and capability than the two Flight 0 LCS versions. The original buy called for 52 vessels.

Hagel said Wednesday that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert understood his instruction to deliver a frigate-like vessel using either modified, existing ship designs —including modifications of existing LCS designs—or a new ship design in time for next year’s budget submission.

Rep. Joe Courtney, (D-Conn.) applauded the administration’s decision to seek $1.2 billion for design work on the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine but questioned “how do we get the conversation out of the realm of bar talk” in paying for the program without consuming the Navy’s future shipbuilding budget?

Hagel said the budget request coupled with the Quadrennial Defense Review “is going to generate some considerable dialogue” over how to pay for this leg of the nuclear triad, on Capitol Hill, in the press, and military associations. “We’re willing partners” in opening that discussion.

Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, repeated “these are not ordinary times” and that “tough, tough choices are coming” and need to be made now to keep the force ready.

Citing sequestration’s affecting future force reductions, especially in the Army at 490,000 soldiers and 182,000 Marines in this budget request, and possibly decommissioning the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) are actions that “can’t be implemented with the push of a button,” Hagel said. The budget request calls for 11 aircraft carriers.

Dempsey said that current cuts have put the Defense Department in a two- to three-year readiness hole that would be worsened if another round of sequestration cuts of $50 billion came into play. The cuts would be made annually in the eight years following Fiscal Year 2016. He saw danger to the Pentagon’s capability in a broad range of areas including cyber; special operations and intelligence; surveillance and reconnaissance; capacity—or “how often we can do it”— and readiness, including having trained forces with modern equipment to respond to crises if those cuts occur. “Capacity becomes the critical factor” if sequestration kicks back in.

“Our focus is on winning wars, Hagel said.
“That’s the priority.”

But continuing cuts such as reducing Army active-duty end strength to 420,000 soldiers is coming “dangerously close to the line” of being not ready to defend the nation.

Dempsey added it was time to stop “believing [those challenges] will be solved by our successors.”
One of those challenges is a new round of base closures and realignments. Hagel told the committee “I will follow the law” and notify Congress if he takes steps in that direction under his own authority. Congress has refused to pass new BRAC legislation since 2005.

Hagel said that earlier BRACs had saved the department about $2 billion annually, though the figures for 2005 do not support that. That BRAC was “as much about reorganization as savings,” he said.

Comptroller Robert Hale said that the department estimated after the 2005 round that it still had 25 percent more infrastructure than it needed.

“If we achieve the promises of the QDR, in 2020, we will be the most powerful nation in the world,” Dempsey said. Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Monday he wanted the Defense Department to re-submit the review taking into account different levels of risk.