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?”