Home » Budget Industry » House Armed Services Committee Looking At 25-30 Year Pace For Reaching 355 Ship Navy

House Armed Services Committee Looking At 25-30 Year Pace For Reaching 355 Ship Navy

Newport News Shipbuilding placed a 900-ton superlift into dry dock, continuing construction of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN 79). Nearly 90 lifts have been placed in the dock and joined together since the ship’s keel was laid in August 2015. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee believes the Navy can reach a 355-ship fleet in the 25- to 30-year timeframe, given industrial base capacity and expected funding levels.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) told USNI News today that, based on a Congressional Budget Office report, achieving a 355-ship fleet in under 20 years would be impossible due to industrial base capacity, and so the question for lawmakers is now whether they want to aim for a 20-, 25- or 30-year track.

“I believe that we can truly send that signal (to industry) and we can get that production ramped up to where we can get to 355 I think somewhere in the 25- to 30-year timeframe,” Wittman said at an event cohosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute.

After the event, he told USNI News that spending an additional $5 to $6 billion a year above recent averages for shipbuilding would get the Navy to 355 ships in 25 years. While he would like to speed up that timeline a bit, the reality of continuing resolutions, budget caps and other political hurdles may slow the shipbuilding spree to a 25- to 30-year pace instead.

“I would like to see us move to the left, but I think it begs the question more fundamentally, this is the track upon which we need to dedicate resources, and if we want to get there more quickly we need to dedicate additional resources, but there’s a certain point where even if we dedicate additional resources you can’t get there because you don’t have the capacity in the industry,” he said.

During the event, Wittman said the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would be an important step in setting this pace for the Navy’s buildup.

“For us, being able to set the proper glide path to get to 355, we need to understand what capacity is in the industry; how much is there; what can they build; how do we make sure that we create the certainty where the industry is willing to invest or willing to make the commitment; say, yes this is serious, this isn’t going to be a one- or two-year endeavor, this is going to be done over a long period of time,” he said.
“So our charge this year with the NDAA is to as aggressively as we can begin that glide path to 355. And I think you have to send that signal, I think you have to look at where can we get industry to start to crank up that effort. It won’t necessarily reveal itself in additional ships in the immediate year … but we’re going to have to push the issue early on.”

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the ranking member of the seapower subcommittee, said at the same event that Congress can do more to help the Navy and industry get to 355 more quickly and efficiently. Citing the National Sea-based Deterrence Fund – a pot of money that funds ballistic-missile submarine construction and allows contracting authorities such as multi-year procurement, continuous production and cross-class procurement between the boomers, attack submarines and aircraft carriers – Courtney said the fund is “the real poster child in terms of really promoting these efficient authorities” to reduce the time and cost of shipbuilding.

He said he would spend this year “challenging the appropriators and some of the folks at the Pentagon to really break out of the annual budget system of appropriating and authorizing ship construction and … look at more multi-year approaches. It just creates tremendous opportunities for efficiencies, continuous production, which is a great way to help the supply chain.”

Though the House and Senate appropriations committees initially pushed back strongly against the National Sea-based Deterrence Fund, as it took away their annual control over shipbuilding spending, Courtney said lawmakers “almost they have no choice” if they want to get to 355 ships in this budget environment.

In addition to cost savings, Courtney said the fund would create schedule benefits as well. Wittman said there had been “just a few hiccups with the Columbia class” – referencing old and recent delays on the new boomer program, which has now eaten away all its schedule margin and must stick closely to its schedule to avoid the first-in-class Columbia missing its first scheduled deployment. Courtney said in response that “the Sea-based Deterrence Fund efficiencies that we got authorized really still haven’t been sort of factored in totally in terms of the Navy’s (schedule) projections. I actually think that if they really embrace those authorities and implement them, we could even buy back some time in terms of schedule for Columbia construction.”

  • NavySubNuke

    The real trick is balancing the restoration of our current fleet and shipyards, which thanks to Obama and Mabus are lacking in just about everything and in desperate need of restoration, and the construction of new assets.
    I hope it isn’t too late but I fear for the coming decades as we work to overcome the damage and restore combat capability to the fleet.

    • Duane

      Actually, the US Navy fleet size first reached its current low point under the George W. Bush administration – in 2007 at 278 ships, whereas Bush inherited a fleet of 318 ships from Clinton … so it was actually Republicans who cut the fleet back. Since then it’s varied both up and down by a few ships each year (from a low of 271 to a high of 289, varying with planned retirements of older ships) but staying on average about the same, in the 270s-280s.

      It’s all about Congressional funding, not who is in the oval office. That’s how our government works, contrary to common misperception that Presidents control spending.

      After the financial crash of 2008, and with the expenditures on foreign ground wars, there just wasn’t any taxpayer funding available to significantly grow the Navy fleet until just a couple years ago, when under the Obama adminstration the official most recent goal of a 308 ship fleet (much larger than the average under Bush) was established. And with a new President the goal now supposedly is 350 ships, or 355 ships. But given that Presidents change out every 4 to 8 years, and Congress changes every 2 years, it’s a fantasy to say “this is how big our fleet will be in 30 years”.

      • NavySubNuke

        Duane – I realize it is common for amateurs and politicians to talk about the Navy in terms of the size of the fleet — that is why the hospital ship and other ships with little to no combat capability are considered part of the “battle fleet”
        But I was talking about our fleet in terms of ships that are properly maintained, are operational, and have the ability to not only defend themselves but have the ability to meet and defeat potential adversaries today — not years from now.
        Bush certainly didn’t do the Navy any favors but in terms of hollowing out the fleet by shrinking the shipyards, cutting back on maintenance and spare parts, and replacing actual warships with overpriced “combat” ships with no actual combat capability against anything besides pirates and suicide boats — the blame for that falls squarely on the Obama administration.
        I realize you won’t agree with that because you are a good little stoogie and don’t like people pointing out the obvious flaws of including the little crappy ships or the hospital ship in the battle fleet count – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

        • PolicyWonk

          In all fairness to Obama (a mediocre POTUS, IMO), he inherited a military at its lowest state of readiness since Vietnam (JCS Report on Force Readiness to the POTUS, Spring 2009), and the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression (the economy was losing 800k jobs/month when he was sworn into office), among a host of other nasty problems (two badly managed wars, etc.).

          Given the historically significant state of the union he inherited, perhaps I’m a wee bit more inclined to cut the guy a bit of slack (GWB, OTOH, inherited a balanced budget, an $800B annual surplus, a nation at peace, and the smallest/most efficient government since the Kennedy Administration).

          No matter how you look at it, the job of POTUS is considered the most difficult on the planet during the best of times. And Obama inherited the nation at a very, Very bad time.


          • NavySubNuke

            Bush certainly did not do the Navy any favors – but he at least had the decency to be honest about it and to maintain what we had. It wasn’t until Mabus came along that the Navy introduced accounting tricks like declaring the hospital ship part of the battle fleet to distract people from how hollow the force was .
            But even those counting tricks pale in comparison to the damage done by Obama and Mabus by their starvation of the O&M accounts. At least Bush made sure what ships we did have were properly maintained.
            The real irony was how right Mitt Romney was – it is hard not to wonder about how much better the world would be right now if America had done the right thing in 2012. Just sparing us the farce/embarrassment of Clinton vs. Trump would have been a huge victory for the nation.
            Alas, the nation gave Obama 4 more years to continue to hollow out our forces and fiddle away while the world burned.

          • PolicyWonk

            Well, I don’t know of many who think Ray Mabus did the USN any favors – especially given the folly of the so-called “littoral combat ship” and/or counting hospital ships as part of the battle fleet (that was simply lame).

            W/r/t Romney, I grew up in the same town he lives in in MA, and my family has known them for years. While I think he’d be more capable than the current incumbent (who I didn’t vote for – John Kasich was my choice), I didn’t consider him to be presidential material.


  • @USS_Fallujah

    I don’t think the 350 ship requirement is well thought out in terms of both capability requirements and shipbuilding (and ship yard maintenance) capacity. It’s going to cost an unlikely amount to increase SSN shipbuilding capability, and SSNs are currently the most backlogged of all maintenance/repair programs. Just keeping the 2 SSNs/year during the SSBN construction run will be problematic enough.
    HII (and BIW, eventually) have the capacity to ramp up construction most quickly and efficiently, if the ~$3-5B FY17 increase in shipbuilding funds from historical averages can be sustained I can see moving CVNs back to a 4 year construction cycle, 4 DDGs/ year and expedited LHA & LH(X) construction to get the gator navy up to par with historic sealift capability. That’s a big if, and doesn’t address what’s to be done with the SSC evolution from LCS to FFE or FFG configuration.

  • Ed L

    I agree with keeping a balance of shipbuilding, Shipyard maintenance, necessary funding, Fleet Support shore facilities and Tenders for forward deployed Vessels. Having done numerous deployments on Ships built in the 60’s and run ragged into the late 70’s. Going into shipyard was a welcome relief, for them and those of us in the Crew that stay with our Ship.

  • Grimwald

    If the criteria is number of hulls, the President can navalize the Coast Guard. There are something like 70+ cutters available. Problem solved.

    • Oskar

      Leaving the Coast Guard WHAT exactly, to do their job with?

  • Gen. Buck Turgidson

    But we have “unmanned ships and energy weapons coming”,,,