The Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition has asked lawmakers for “design for affordability” research and development dollars to reduce the cost of building carriers and for advance procurement funding for a block buy of CVN-80 and 81 materials.
The organization, and employees of companies from all tiers of the aircraft carrier supply chain, made five requests during a two-day visit to Capitol Hill, which included private meetings with lawmakers and an open-mic breakfast during which a dozen congressmen expressed support for aircraft carriers and the companies that build them.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), whose district border stops just shy of the Newport News Shipbuilding yard, spoke about the importance of aircraft carriers and the need to find a smarter way to buy them.
“Our forward presence depends on that aircraft carrier. As you know, our base presence around the world continues to shrink for a variety of reasons, that’s the future. If we are going to influence world events and do the things we need to do as a nation and make sure that we protect American interests, it is the aircraft carrier that is the centerpiece of that,” he said Thursday at the breakfast.
“We need to look at dual-ship purchases. I’d like to be purchasing aircraft carriers two at a time – if not, at the very least purchasing the equipment … for both of those ships in blocks. I think that’s an important way to do that. It creates economies for purchases, we’ve seen that historically and we ought to be doing more of that. Plus, it creates certainty” for the industrial base.
The dual-ship buy is one of the five ACIBC talking points for this year’s event. Coalition chairman Richard Giannini told USNI News at the breakfast that the organization is asking for $293 million to be pulled forward into the Fiscal Year 2017 budget to support advance procurement for both CVN-80, the future Enterprise, and 81.
Tthat will help us to consolidate the buying efforts,” said Giannini, who is also president and CEO of Milwaukee Valve Company.
“They’re going to start with this first block on the real long lead time stuff, the bigger equipment, and then over the next several years we’ll do the same thing with the suppliers that have shorter lead times. And what that will do is save about $400 to $500 million off the cost of the carrier.”
The group is also asking for $20 million in research in development money for a “design for affordability” initiative, which aims to find more efficient ways to build the ship. A similar effort for the Virginia-class attack submarine program saw a five-to-one return on investment, he said.
The coalition also wants to see advance procurement funding for the next refueling and complex overhaul – not for USS George Washington (CVN-73), set to start this fall, but for USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) after that. Giannini said part of the rationale was that starting the design effort now – and actually naming Stennis in the defense policy and budget bills starting this year – would help keep the design effort moving forward in the event of future continuing resolutions, which creates an inefficient stop-and-go work flow at the beginning of the fiscal year for programs not explicitly funded in the previous year’s budget.
And finally, the coalition is pushing members to continue supporting the carrier-related funds in the Navy’s FY 2017 request and supporting an 11-carrier requirement for the fleet.
The bulk of the new funds requested are actually “money coming probably out of (FY) 18 or 19 into 17,” Giannini said.
“What we’re really looking for is a stable, consistent funding so that suppliers can add things together and get more business at once, which will lower cost, and keep the shipyard from having a lull in between where materials don’t get there on time, which just adds cost.”
The congressmen who attended the event said they were concerned about gaps in carrier presence overseas, which began occurring again last year after a period of time during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars when four carriers might be out operating at any given time.
“We’re seeing for the first time in years that our combatant commanders in the Pacific and in the Middle East are going months without carriers,” House Armed Services seapower and projection forces ranking member Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) said at the event.
“We had a briefing the other day with Gen. (Lloyd) Austin from Central Command and the question he was asked was, so how’s that (carrier gap) going? And it’s extremely challenging, trying to juggle the mission of our country in those critical areas of the world without carriers for a couple months.”
That carrier gap “sends a message to potential adversaries and allies about our readiness and ability to continuously project strength,” House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said.
“This is why we must prioritize three things: funding for our shipyards, enabling the Navy to follow the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (training and deployment cycle), and provide for advance procurement of our ships.”