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House Seapower Chair Wittman Outlines Committee Agenda

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The new head of the Hose Armed Services seapower and projection forces committee presented an outline of his priorities including moving aircraft carriers to four-year build cycles, funding ships incrementally and learning how fast the shipbuilding industry can ramp up to meet the Navy’s 355 ship goal.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), formerly the chair of the HASC readiness subcommittee, set out the focus of his agenda leading up to crafting the Fiscal Year 2018 authorization bill to start a plus up from the current fleet of 275 ships.

“The debate in our subcommittee will revolve around two things,” Wittman said on Wednesday at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse “Defense Programs” event.

“What are we doing to rebuild our Navy? What are we doing to get to the 355 ships that are both reflected in the force structure assessment they just did and are also reflected in the president’s proposal? Where are we with shipbuilding capacity? What can our shipyards do?”

Answering the shipyard question is one that will start with a report from the Congressional Budget Office that will assess how able the U.S. industrial base can accommodate the demand for a 355-ship fleet.

“We’re still awaiting information back from the Congressional Budget Office concerning how quickly we can get to 355 ships. We’ve asked them to play [that] out in 15, 25 and 30-year scenarios,” he said.
“The capability and capacity of the industry has waned because we haven’t built this way in awhile. How do we get that muscle memory back?”

CBO is set to release the report to the subcommittee in the next few weeks.

The subcommittee is also set to study the composition of the service’s fleet architecture as they craft the next authorization.

“To me, the policy side, the authorization side is extraordinarily important because we have to get the glide path to 355 right and that means we have to supply the resources in the right places at the right pace to get those ships built and to get them built on time and built on budget,” he said.
“Some of the areas we’ve talked about [include] moving to 12 aircraft carriers. I believe that’s something that we need to do. Purchasing aircraft carriers two at a time, we proposed that last year, purchasing [Ford-class] CVN-80 and 81. We will come back again with that this year to purchase two-at-a-time and make sure we get those economies there.”

At the same conference Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran said the service would push the focus initially on destroyers, attack submarines and aircraft carriers for an uptick in a shipbuilding program to get to 355.

“We definitely wanted to go after SSNs, DDGs and carriers, to get carriers from a five-year center to a four-year center and even looked at a three-year option. So the numbers I will give to you are reflective of those three priorities, because those are the big impacters in any competition at sea,” he told USNI News last week.
“Amphibs come later, but I’m talking about initial, what are we building that we can stamp out that are good. We know how to build Virginia-class, we know how to build DDGs.”

Both nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and attack boat (SSN) production are also areas of concern for Wittman. Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics Electric Boat are beginning the design work for the follow-on to the Navy’s current generation of Ohio-class SSBNs. The two yards are also designing the hull extension of Virginia-class to add additional conventional Tomahawk strike missiles as part of the Block V.

“Working with the current shipyards [we will] ask what is the production rate they think they can go to. One of the areas is SSNs,” he said.
“Can we continue to sustain two, maybe more, SSNs while at the same time pursuing Block V with VPM – Virginia Payload Module – while making sure that same time we stay on track with Columbia?”

In addition to the new construction, Wittman added the modernization and readiness issues in the service are on the rise.

“They are exciting times but they are also challenging times,” Wittman said.
“How do we get all that right?”

  • Curtis Conway

    “…How do we get that muscle memory back?” The US Navy for over 50 years had enough multi-warfare platforms to fill tasking requirements, and much of the planet just seeing a grey US Navy vessel flying our ensign was enough to deter aggression over most of that period. Two things have changed:
    1. The foe no longer cares about the capability of the platform, and due to religious fervor, and desire to martyr themselves, the bigger and more capable the platform, the better.
    2. The proliferation of Tactical Ballistic Missiles (TBMs), and Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs), has elevated the capacity requirements of most platforms in ‘Presence’ and ‘Show the Flag’ missions regardless of AOR.

    As the fleet composition migrated to Aegis platforms over the ‘80s & ‘90s, the cruisers were replaced with the most capable platform the surface navy or the planet has ever encountered (USS Ticonderoga (CG-47 Aegis Cruisers). The DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Destroyers (even Flt Is) were an improvement in sea keeping and engagement capability except for possessing only one gun and less missiles than the cruisers, and Flt IIAs possess helo hangars. The FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Aegis replacement NEVER came, yet these platforms continued to pull multi-warfare tasking around the globe in every COCOM AOR, until recently, and now that the AORs are more dangerous (even some of the benign ones), the combat lethargic LCS/frigate is coming on the scene with no capability against TBMs, and little to no capability against ASCMs (particularly of the supersonic variety). This analysis escapes everyone who pushes for the LCS/frigate solution, mostly for economic reasons placing sailors at greater risk in the future. We must plan for the worse, and hope for the best, NOT plan on the benign HiStory of the recent past (1980s-1990s), except for the most recent past (attack against the USS Mason (DDG-87) applies.

    The United States navy needs 50+ all-ocean (hopefully Arctic capable), multi-warfare frigates that possess a non-rotating 3D AESA radar, and can deploy for extended period of time to exceed 30 days. These vessels should be constructed in two versions (AAW-centric & ASW-centric) with common Hull, Machinery, and Equipment configurations. Both versions should possess the capability to defend themsleves (e.g., anyone in their vicinity) from a TBM and ASCM attack.

    Two Aegis Frigates can be built for the cost of one DDG-51 Flt III, so fleet size, versatility of forces, and locations of coverage increases more rapidly. Still need the DDGs, just sacrifice some in the future budget for some Aegis FFGs.

    No argument on the SSNs. We are at least 20 units deficient from what is required to respond to potential worldwide tasking at present.

    As for carriers, the USS American (LHA-6) option utilizing F-35Bs is much more cost/combat effective platforms, and increases force levels more quickly, at a lower cost. The F-35 Combat System capabilities, and budget requirements, are the compelling aspects of this argument. More SSNs to accompany Carrier & Expeditionary Strike Groups also supports this hypothesis, and logical conclusion.

    Just my 2ȼ.

    • Don’t expect crews for any substantial increase in the number of platforms to magically appear overnight. The Navy has been on a reduced manning (yes I mean MANNING) tear for better than a decade. In addition, women have been added to seagoing crews for quite some time now, and the statistics bear out that a female’s availability is 85% that of a male (based on pregnancy and whatever else you have).
      If you view the poor material condition of many of our ships (running rust and the like), there is no choice but to admit the truth. If you want a Navy that can fight up to the standards of last century’s Navy (don’t ply me with any techno bilge – you know exactly what I mean), you need to MAN UP THE NAVY.

      • Curtis Conway

        I’ll go with that!

      • Curtis Conway

        . . . where did the ‘appear overnight’ business come from? Any fleet growth programs will take years to get started, and go for decades. Existing programs can grow if budget supports.

        • See Sal’s blog of 20 March. BTW the don’t ply me comment was not meant for you – rather for those of a more “transformational” bent; not to include nuclear powered BMD ice breakers.

          • Curtis Conway

            AHW . . . come – on!! That is a great idea.

          • Do you think that a nuclear BMD ice breaker could be built large enough to include a processing facility for whale carcasses?

          • Curtis Conway

            Don’t think they will have time for that, but if that deck is big enough to drag up a submarine on . . . well, all bets are off.

          • Actually I was thinking along the lines of a self provisioning platform. With nuclear power, no need to come ashore except for food. So you catch a whale, use the meat for chow and turn the blubber into whale oil which you use to run the DG in the event the reactor SCRAMS.
            Whale oil is a bio-fuel and renewable. This is an idea that’s time has come! It would tick off the Russians as well as the Green Peace types. Sounds like a win – win to me!

  • seamarshal

    I agree with the HOSE Arm Services Committee. Most the committees are hose jobs. At least it tells it like it is!

  • johnbull

    I liked what I read, particularly purchasing carriers in blocks of two. I was disappointed that there was no mention of a replacement for the aging Ticoconderogas. If we’re increasing the number of carriers, we’ve got to have state of the art vessels to “ride shotgun” for them, particularly with the increasingly lethal antiship missiles out there.