Home » Budget Industry » Wittman: Armed Services Committee Won’t Accept Proposed Navy Shipbuilding Plan; More Hulls Needed

Wittman: Armed Services Committee Won’t Accept Proposed Navy Shipbuilding Plan; More Hulls Needed

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Austin Kreilis, assigned to the air department aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), signals an MV-22 Osprey to lift off from the flight deck. US Navy photo.

CAPITOL HILL – The House Armed Services Committee will not accept a Navy shipbuilding plan of anything lower than 13 ships and $26 billion in Fiscal Year 2019, a subcommittee chairman said, suggesting HASC may add several ships beyond what the Navy requested earlier this week.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), who chairs the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said this morning that “the floor for shipbuilding in FY ‘19 needs to be no less than $26.2 billion and 13 ships. Period. Bottom line.” The House of Representatives agreed to those numbers for the current FY 2018 spending plan, which has still not been approved by the Senate and passed into law, but Wittman argued those figures must be approved this year and continued into 2019.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) is pictured while chairing the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. DoD Photo

“This year’s appropriations bill reflects $26.2 billion ad 13 ships’ construction. In the president’s budget (for 2019), about $21 billion and 10 ships. Folks, the bottom line is this: we know what we need as far as numbers of ships; we know to get there in the most cost-effective manner, serial production is key; we know also we’ve got to get off the rollercoaster ride of building some ships and then coming back down and then building some more ships. You cannot maintain an industrial base, you cannot plan for future operations without the certainty that comes with that,” Wittman said at an annual Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition congressional event.

Naval Battle Force Inventory, from the Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for
Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2019.

Several other HASC members, both Democrat and Republican, agreed. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) said last year’s National Defense Authorization Act put into law the notion that the Navy should aim for a 355-ship fleet as expeditiously as possible, and a budget and accompanying 30-year shipbuilding plan “that ignores that matter of law and does not get us to 355 in as practical and timely a manner as possible is, quite frankly, inadequate.” Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) said “I am disappointed by the president’s budget, it should contain more than 10 ships.” McEachin added that it would be easier to argue for sufficient new ships if the Pentagon’s request had started a little higher, but he said he was committed to working with Wittman and others to boost the 2019 shipbuilding profile.

The Navy’s shipbuilding plan, released Monday along with the FY 2019 budget request, never actually reaches 355 ships – the plan ends in FY 2048, and the Navy wouldn’t reach 355 until the 2050s. The plan tops out at 342 in 2039 and 2041.

The plan does acknowledge the 355-ship goal and notes three elements of a plan to grow the force. “Steady, sustainable growth” will “establish minimum baseline acquisition profiles that grow the force at a sustainable, affordable rate while protecting the overall balanced warfighting investment strategy,” including readiness, training, improved capability, manning and more.

“Aggressive growth” opportunities are identified to boost shipbuilding as “industrial capacity and increased resources permit.” The Navy does not advocate for specific ship classes or timeframes in which it would want to be aggressive, but it does include a chart that identifies its stable procurement profile while noting excess shipyard capacity where the Navy – or Congress – could choose to buy additional ships or move up procurement of aircraft carriers to fill that excess yard capacity and create a more cost-effective acquisition profile.

Service life extensions for current ships are also pursued to help keep ship inventory numbers up in the short-term.

Stable Procurement Profile, from the Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for
Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2019,

Beyond simply arguing for more ships, lawmakers specifically called for paying for the remainder of either an LPD-30 amphibious transport dock or the first in the follow-on LX(R) class; accelerating the procurement timeline of amphibious assault ship LHA-9, which is set to follow seven years behind the future Bougainville (LHA-8) even though the ships could be built about four years apart; and enhancing the offensive and defensive capabilities of the amphibious ships through command and control, air defense, anti-surface and other capability additions for the big-deck amphibs in particular.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller spoke at the event and agreed that the amphibious ships “have got to be more capable than they are today, they’ve got to be more lethal.”

“These are warships, they aren’t transport ships,” he quipped.

The Marines have long argued they need more ships – the service has been pushing for 38 ships for many years, even as the Navy for a while touted a fiscally constrained 34-amphib goal, and combatant commanders’ requests for amphibs total somewhere north of 50 ships a year. Neller said at the event that finding the right balance between quantity and capability of the ships is difficult, but that “I would trade numbers of ships for capability if that was the trade.”

“To buy a whole bunch of ships that don’t have survivability, that don’t have command and control, that don’t have air defense, that don’t have some form of surface-to-surface strike, that’s not going to solve the problem,” he said.
“With technology changing, we’ve got to build these ships – particularly … with the command and control suite, you’ve got to build that thing a little more open architecture because it takes five to seven years to build a ship, who knows what the communication technology’s going to be.”

Neller noted the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has already been fielded globally and would make its first appearance in U.S. Central Command this fall when the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit deploy this fall. That plane, for all the technological capabilities it has, can only effectively leverage its computing power and sensors and battlespace management capabilities if it can network with the amphibious ships in the fleet and the Marines preparing to land ashore, the commandant said.

In addition to upgrading some of the amphibs’ capabilities, Neller said this week’s budget request also starts to look at “all the things that we have not had to deal with in the past 17 years of war: whether it be information and electronic warfare, whether it be improved intelligence analysis, air defense, things like that. Those are the things that are still driving us, in addition to being able to maneuver from the sea.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller sits down for lunch with infantry squad leaders during a visit to Twentynine Palms, Calif., February 7, 2018. US Marine Corps photo.

Also at the event, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments senior fellow Bryan Clark said his recent analysis supports the Marines’ assessment that they need at least 38 amphibs, but for different reasons. The Marines have maintained they need that many ships to support a massive two-Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) assault on enemy territory, for a major Iwo Jima-like landing. Clark, however, said adversaries like Russia and China would likely not risk a massive war with the United States, where the U.S. joint force would bring all the resources it had to bear. Instead, he said, the U.S. is more likely to face a lot of little aggressions in more of a “gray zone warfare” situation. To effectively respond to that scenario, the Navy and Marine Corps need to operate a distributed fleet, putting into practice the Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept released last year.

Clark also issued a warning about industrial base fragility as the Navy and lawmakers consider the shipbuilding plans for the coming years. He warned that some yards – such as Austal USA and Marinette Marine, who both build the Littoral Combat Ship – are at risk as that program draws to a close, but are highly capable of building hotly in-demand small commercial ships for coastal and river operations, so he predicted they would not close as a result of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans but might leave the defense industrial base. Large yards, like Ingalls Shipbuilding that constructs all amphibious ship classes currently in production, are not at risk of shuttering due to instability in the shipbuilding plans, but he said their prices to the Navy may go up if the Navy offers less-efficient production schedules.

What is of most concern, he said, are the suppliers that do business with the shipbuilders. Some are owned by larger companies that may grow tired of the ups and downs of government shipbuilding, and others are small companies that may just shutter. Protecting these kinds of suppliers – some of which are sole sources of particular components – must be a priority for the Navy and Congress, he said.

  • Bryan

    The problem is that an artificial number of 355 does not mean much. If the Chairman just wants hulls in this election year, he will pay for it down the road when we don’t have the money and the boat yards have to layoff talent.
    We need sustained ship building. We need effective ships. We screwed up with the LCS. Should we do that again? Perhaps 20 more sub par frigates that we rush to buy?
    It’s about forward deployment. It’s about effective presence instead of just driving by the illegal Chinese islands. Presence without effect is called a waste of money. At that point we should stay home and prepare for war that will surely come.
    If the Chairman wants more hulls perhaps he should discuss a different strategy with the Navy. The navy has been chasing efficiency of each ship in terms of capacity (Sortie generation, VLS tubes, etc) instead of cost efficiencies when compared to presence(Length of cruises, inability to be in two places at once, peace time capacity vs war time capacity strategies, etc). Perhaps splitting the BMD ship from the destroyer mission. Arming Amphib ships is a something that should have been done yesterday.
    Is the Navy loosing the leadership role in Asia? Absolutely. Why? Lack of leadership at the congressional level. More of the same so that they can all be re-elected. Meanwhile we are going bankrupt. China owns us, lock, stock and barrel. We need to fix that asap or they will become the worlds only superpower in 10 to 20 years.
    If this means we just patch up our roads and bridges for 10 years, if we lower the number of soldiers, if we hold the number of ships the same, then so be it. That’s what it takes. Make the fleet effective. Make our strategy effective. Make our tactics effective. We don’t need to worry about making our fleet 355. It might reach that, it might not. If it’s an effective fleet then it won’t matter.

  • Sons of Liberty

    Once again a politician spurts nonsense. Every debate on number and capablities forgoes discussions on manpower. Ships are need but more important is properly training & manning the ship we have today and providing funds to increase the number of sailors along with stadning up proper training.

  • DaSaint

    Of course it’s the guys from VA that want more shipbuilding, right? Support the big yards, NNS, Ingalls, sure. Close Marinette and Austal USa. Sure, watch what happens to prices when there are only 4 or 5 naval yards in the country, and 4 of them are owned by 2 companies. SMH.

    I’m all for more ships, IF it makes sense, and IF we have the manpower. Right now, there’s an exodus, so we don’t. The FFG(X) may be an answer, but if you want to convince me that you want to get to 355 faster, do what Australia did and mandate what yards are needed for the production. Make both Marinette and Austal compete for FFG(X) production, the way we make BIW and Ingalls compete for Burke production.

    • D. Jones

      End LCS and see what Marinette & Austal can come up with. Winner survives.
      No winner? Oh well.

      The atrocious number on that chart is boomers. It’s absolutely criminal to let our strongest strategic deterrent wither, especially as Chinese subs get better.

      TBQH, the small stuff is something other countries should take care of themselves. SK, Japan, Taiwan, PI and probably others should field more frigates, destroyers & cruisers. Same for Europe. It’s their backyard at risk. They’re familiar with it. They can afford it. We can’t. Let them handle the little stuff (with good missiles that our system can tie into). For big jobs / shows of force, send in our carrier group. Job #1 should always always always be strategic defense. That map doesn’t cut it.

      Tying everything into a quasi-functional F35 is asking for a bigger trainwreck. These software bloated interactive systems will be like Windows designed by the DMV. None of the politicians are network engineers or programmers. They probably have VCR’s still flashing 12:00. Lobbyists tell them what to think (“This system will create 3500 jobs in your district!” “SOLD!”) By the time the system is implemented 12 years past due date and 400% over budget, the congresspersons and program execs will be retired in the Bahamas, knee-deep in exotic dancers and gin.

      We can complain, but nothing will change until “campaign contribution” reform happens. Look up Wittman’s top 3 donors: Ingalls, Lockmart & Northrup Grumman. How is this not a conflict of interest? Both parties do it. It’s PORK. At the expense of national defense. Every congressman should have big sponsor decals on their namecards, like Nascar.

      • DaSaint

        You’ve hit the nail on the head.

        While I disagree that we don’t need FFGs and/or smaller combatants, I do think that the MIC is so entrenched and incestuous as to become ridiculous. Competition is needed, and it isn’t there now. The LCS designs have their faults, but what they did was force the other yards to upgrade or lose out on future contracts. It happened to BIW. They couldn’t compete with either Bollinger or Eastern Shipbuilding, who never built a combatant before winning the OPC contract.

        I’m waiting to hear some say that warships are complex vessels and therefore the BIWs and HII and GDs are the only capable builders, and that’s why we end up with $12B carriers and $4B Amphibs. Look what happened to the Aerospace sector when commercialization was introduced to space launches. Who would have thought that Boeing and Lockheed could lose contracts to startups like Space X and Orbital, but it’s happening. And you can’t tell me that payload carrying rockets are less complex than warships.

        The point is that someone has to incentivize and disrupt the sector, and prices will come down, innovation will be increased, and our nation will get the Navy it deserves for our service men and women. Just let Elon Musk buy a shipyard and threaten to design a next-gen aircraft carrier, and watch the price drop at NNS.

  • Ed L

    Like 20 frigates in 4 years. Since 2012 ingalls has been proposing variants The proposed HII design—called the FF4923, which is based on the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, would be a long-endurance patrol frigate that could potentially offer greater combat capabilities as well as range and endurance for a lower price. Company officials told me that they are building nine NSC vessels for the Coast Guard and a Navy variant would be a relatively quick conversion. The proposed HII frigate—which the company is primarily gearing toward the export market—is a 4,675 metric ton design that is 418-feet long and a beam of 54-feet. The vessel would have a crew size of 121 sailors and would have a range of more than 8,000 nautical miles or more than 60 days. Power would come from a pair of 9,655shp diesels and 30,565shp gas turbine—giving the ship a top speed of just above 28 knots. HII says it could increase the speed to more than 30 knots, but suggested that an incrementally greater sprint speed is not worth the additional cost—especially for the patrol mission.

    In terms of sensors and weapons, the HII FF4923 would be well furnished. It would include a 3D rotating phased array radar, an EO/IR sensor, passive ECM, hull-mounted sonar and towed-array or variable depth sonar. It would be armed with a Mk-41 vertical launch system with 16 cells capable of carrying the Standard SM-2 and RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile. It would also be equipped with ASROC anti-submarine rockets, eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a single triple torpedo launcher and a 76mm gun. HII officials said that their frigate design could be a directly replacement for the now retired Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate that was mainstay of the Navy’s fleet for decades.

    For ship self-defense, the FF4923 would be equipped with the Raytheon SeaRAM close in defense systems as well as two remotely controlled and four manually operated .50 caliber machine guns. It would also be equipped with anti-missile and anti-torpedo defenses. In addition to the ship’s own capabilities, the FF4923 would have the ability to carry a MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and two unmanned aerial vehicles. It would also be able to launch and recover a 7m rigid-hull inflatable boat.

    Altogether, the FF4923 is a formidable design—which will see service in a foreign navy if not our own. HII officials said that the design is affordable mostly because the Coast Guard design had so much additional unused space, weight and power available. Perhaps, with any luck, HII might be able to persuade the U.S. Navy to buy a few.

  • Western

    Where is the plan for our merchant fleet?

    • John Locke

      In the hands of the CEOs that own the shipping companies

    • Samuel Clemens

      Outsourced by the 0.01% to wherever they can grab the rest of the 50% of the world’s wealth. Friend or foe absolutely does not matter. Good luck, patriotism is for suckers and employees who are the same thing.

  • kye154

    By the year 2050, most all of these ships that are currently on the list will have become obsolete, and they will have to figure in replacement costs. Don’t see that on the chart. So, the 355 ship goal is never going to be achieved, unless you maintain the clunkers through to that time. And, with no inclusion for funding of weapons development for these ships, they are doomed anyway. That is because, the advances in weapons technology that both Russia and China have made, puts the whole U.S. navy, (except for the subs), at risk. For instance, recently leaked photos show China is not only catching up with the US in ship-borne rail gun technology, but may surpass the US in the next 5 to 10 years. Why? Because the US needs more time to approve budgets while China’s political system allows it to put more funding into special projects.” What the chart above shows, in essence, is that the U.S. is planning to keep the navy it had developed from 20 years ago. Not good!

    • Samuel Clemens

      2050? Closer to 2020 with full obsolescence in 2030s. The world is changing fast and it is not toward coal, steam power, and huge metal surface targets operated manually to be attacked by the weapons of advanced warfare which are none of those. America Last. So sad.

  • Bubblehead

    What they are saying is basically they want to build more LCS. It is pretty telling that the USN is absolutely desperate for more hulls but at the same time are screaming they do not want more LCS. It shines the light on how worthless they really are. They are worse than useless, they are coffins.

    But Im going to completely contradict myself. It might be worthwhile to build a few more until FFGX comes online. If the USN uses them correctly they could full fill limited roles. Antidrugs patrols around Carribbean, South America & Cali. In times of war they could mount up some ESSM and protect harbors & ports, especially from mines and subs. This would allow the fighter fleet to go on the offensive. Mines are under estimated and we will find out the hard way we do not have enough MCM if a major war breaks out.

    I still think they are a POS, but hey, make the best out of what resources you have.

  • PolicyWonk

    The USN should be allowed to plan its fleet without interference from the HoR’s, in absence of any overall global threat analysis, and a determination of what the weapons and force structure should look like to eliminate those threats.

    The national debt looks like it does, largely in part due to grossly irresponsible actions on the part of the so-called “leadership” in the HoR’s, who routinely demonstrate a lack a ability to do basic things like add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

  • Desplanes

    These guys impose sequestration for half of a decade, ignore the Navy for the decade before that, and now they expect the USN and industry to be able to double ship production overnight.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Putting aside the obvious fact that HASC has no authority to purchase ship “HASC plans, HAC-D laughs”, where could the USN legitimately add more hulls to the existing budget request? Can’t build another SSN, maybe a 4th DDG, maybe a ‘Phib (though the USMC doesn’t want anymore LPDs and the LH(X) design isn’t ready yet), maybe some ESB/EPFs or axillaries, and certainly not more LCS and the FFG isn’t ready for funding so…what do you want Mr. Whittman?

  • vincedc

    Newport News full employment project.

  • Samuel Clemens

    Goddamn waste of money for sake of throwing more money at money.