Home » Budget Industry » Navy Wants Alternative Funding for Columbia SSBNs to Accelerate 355-Ship Fleet

Navy Wants Alternative Funding for Columbia SSBNs to Accelerate 355-Ship Fleet

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.

CAPITOL HILL – The Navy continues to push for the upcoming Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine program to be funded outside the normal shipbuilding budget, as opportunities exist to reach a 355-ship fleet faster but the $100-billion SSBN program looms over the next 15 years of spending.

Vice Adm. Bill Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems (OPNAV N9), told USNI News today after a Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee hearing that those discussions – which have been ongoing between the Navy, the Pentagon and Congress for the past several years – are “becoming more active” as the start of construction in Fiscal Year 2021 draws closer.

“To be clear, the Columbia is the number-one program. The Columbia will be funded; it’s really the impact on the rest of the shipbuilding account that we have to negotiate with how we’re going to cover down,” he said.

Asked if there seemed to be support for the idea of funding Columbia through a special account outside the Navy’s annual shipbuilding and conversion appropriations, Merz said, “I think so. I think everybody appreciates the fidelity of the last shipbuilding plan to highlight that the storm is coming; it’s beyond the [five-year Future Years Defense Program], so typically outside the near-term horizon, but because we took the effort to actually lay out those details over the entire 30-year shipbuilding plan hopefully that will posture us for the Columbia challenge, other challenges that may be coming that we can get into position to handle before it’s a panic, before it’s already on top of us.”

Though there is technically no limit to how much money Congress can pour into the Navy’s shipbuilding appropriation, the Navy has feared that asking for a total appropriation too high above the historical norm would not be well received or fully funded either by the Pentagon or by lawmakers. The Navy had received in the ballpark of $15 billion a year earlier this decade, and the current FY 2019 budget includes $24.2 billion – already higher than recent historical averages, and including only advance procurement for the first Columbia-class boat rather than serial construction that will start in a few years. To ease these fears, the Navy for several years now has pushed for the idea of funding the next generation of SSBNs in a supplemental account, leaving the Navy to negotiate a normal shipbuilding budget that focuses on growing its fleet of amphibious ships, attack submarines, large and small combatants and more without the Columbia program threatening these other classes’ funding.

The first grand blocks of the future USS John Finn (DDG 113) are erected on the building ways at the Ingalls Shipbuilding yard in Pascagoula, Miss. Huntington Ingalls Industries photo.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the chairman of the SASC seapower subcommittee, seemed to express support for this idea during the hearing. Wicker noted the statutory requirement for the Navy to build a 355-ship fleet – which the service is on track to reach by FY 2034, according to current plans.

“Let me ask you about some assumptions that might change the plan and get us there faster. Specifically, what would happen if the Navy changed some or all of the following assumptions: executed additional service life extensions? Maintain overall shipbuilding funding levels at the Fiscal Year 2035 level after we get finished with the Columbia class procurement – that would be sweet, wouldn’t it? Receive supplemental funding for the Columbia program outside the normal account in FY 21 through 35? And/or use the available shipyard capacity identified in the 30-year shipbuilding plan?” Wicker said at the beginning of the hearing.

 “I think all those would be instruments of change to move that to the left,” replied Navy acquisition chief James Geurts.
“When we built the shipbuilding plan we built the framework of what a steady sustainable rate would be and then where we had opportunities to accelerate should funding become available, whether that’s in destroyers or submarines or in some of the other classes. So those opportunities exist. Depending on the levels of those assumptions you spoke of, there there’s certainly opportunity there to move that plan to the left.”

Geurts made clear though that the Navy was focused on growing to 355 ships in a balanced way – meaning not just building more ships, but ensuring the service could properly man them, maintain them at public and private shipyards, operate them around the globe, and cover other lifecycle costs.

Merz said during the exchange with Wicker that “absolutely fundamental to sustaining our shipbuilding plan is a steady funding profile and figuring out an alternate solution to the Columbia funding profile, which we’ve already identified in the shipbuilding plan and that’s work to be done – not quite a panic yet, but it’s on the horizon and we’re going to have to deal with that.”

Another current statutory requirement – the return of the Budget Control Act spending caps – could hamper the ability to grow the fleet at the Navy’s desired pace. Wicker asked how a flat or declining budget would affect Navy shipbuilding. Merz said the return of BCA would have an “immediate to devastating impact” depending on the exact cuts, and Geurts said “obviously at the BCA level, that significant a cut would be difficult to imagine us executing the current plan under BCA caps.”

  • Curtis Conway

    We need a National Strategic Deterrence Fund that covers all nuclear weapons development, maintenance & test, manufacture, and cover all large delivery platforms (submarines, heavy bombers, land-based ICBMs) including Command & Control communications and connectivity by all methods, and the platforms utilized for same.

    • Beomoose

      It’s a plan worth investigating and would likely have more benefits than drawbacks if properly scoped and managed. Unfortunately, Congress has not only failed to put money in the SSBN fund at any time since it was created in 2015, the House Armed Services Committee has tried to close the fund multiple times. We need to see the Legislature actually put money in the existing fund to prove their commitment to using it before we go expanding it.

  • Ed L

    The DOD, CIA and NSA need to be exempted from the BAC (Budget Control Act) Quote from Article: “When we built the shipbuilding plan we built the framework of what a steady sustainable rate would be and then where we had opportunities to accelerate should funding become available, whether that’s in destroyers or submarines or in some of the other classes. So those opportunities exist.” Example in case of a pending threat of war

    • thebard3

      Others would insist that social programs should be excepted from the BCA. I’m not saying I disagree with you, only to say that the only thing that’s simple about simple solutions is that they simply do not exist.

      • Ed L

        Not a big fan of charity programs like welfare. As a kid I remember the start of the Great society by LBJ. My friends neighborhood was declared blighted by the government. Their homes were torn down. My Friends home were grandparents, parents children and sometimes cousins live. Two stories, 3 in my friends case The area were their home sat was replace with cheap ugly towers that became a hideout for thugs and hoods to terrorizes the people. That’s one program that ruin America

        • old guy

          You could identify that area as Brighton beach, N.Y.

          Further, I believe Johnson’s “Great Society” did more damage to Americans of color and their families, than any Jim Crow law/

          • Ed L

            Columbus Ohio oh they tore those towers down after just 30 years and built new ones just as ugly

        • PolicyWonk

          Indeed, the really large projects were miserable failures. The smaller ones definitely worked better, but the requirement for “mix use” in new developments seems to work.

          • NavySubNuke

            Interesting, what is your definition of “seems to work” — are the people who live in those mixed developments more likely to get jobs and get off the dole? Are they less likely to be abusing drugs and alcohol?
            It would be really interesting to see how the crime rate compares on a section 8 per capita basis for blocks of section 8 housing vs. sprinkles of section 8 housing. Is there simply less crime because there is less section 8 people in one area or is the crime rate really lower?

          • PolicyWonk

            I’d read a crime study conducted by the FBI several years ago on this topic. Their website and publications have mountains of stuff that could keep you busy for several lifetimes. The only reason that one came to my attention (or sparked my interest) was due to my reading an article about low-income housing, and there was an income property I use to own that had a Section 8 tenant (one of the best tenants I had), with a few kids.

            They referenced the FBI study, which I bothered to read over a stiff glass o’ brandy. They found lots of crimes and problems in the very large complexes, and the crime rates (and problems) went down in smaller the housing complexes, with the lowest rates being in “mixed” housing.


          • DaSaint

            Smaller is usually better – for housing developments.
            In rural areas, they develop prefab housing or ‘trailer-like’ housing for a similar economic demographic, and they have the same problems as the larger urban ones. Alcoholism, crime, lack of services.

          • DaSaint

            You’re confusing mixed-use with mixed-income.
            Mixed-use refers to combinations of retail and residential.

            Mixed-income refers to affordable housing developments that allow various sliding scales of annual incomes to be afforded the opportunity to purchase or rent in the same structure. For example, there may be 10 units of low-income, defined by a general geographic calculus, then there may be 50 units of ‘middle-income’ priced units, and then there may be 40 units of ‘luxury’ units.
            The concept has been proven to work for over 20 years. The misnomer is that the entire development of 100 units is classified as ‘affordable housing’, with commensurate tax benefits to the developer though only 60 of the 100 may truly be ‘affordable’.

            But it’s how the system works. The developers who develop ‘affordable housing’ particularly on the East Coast are all multi-millionaires due to the tax breaks, plus the fact that they acquired the property for virtually nothing from the local municipality.

      • “Others would insist that social programs should be excepted from the BCA.”

        That’s already the case. As written, the Budget Control Act (a.k.a., the Sequester) exempts major social spending categories including Social Security, Medicaid, and veterans services, plus Medicare cannot be cut more than 2%. Interest payments on the National Debt can’t be cut. So what’s left are defense and non-defense “discretionary spending,” both of which are already shrinking pieces (relatively) of the budget pie.

  • Leatherstocking

    Here we go again – More service life extensions. Let me get out the magic wand to make tens of thousands of obsolete parts for thousands of electronic, electrical and electromechanical subsystems appear. Reduced new construction further weakens the supplier base, already down 20% from 8 years ago. If BCA limits are enacted, it will reduce the 2020 DoD budget from $700B to $576B. O&M, munitions and other accounts will be shorted to sustain the shipyards, driving even more vendors out of business.

  • peterjohn936

    If Congress wants more money for they military then Congress must raise that money from taxes. The deficit and the debt is already too high.

    • Jicdoit

      And yet record revenues have been collected this year following the passing of the tax cuts. Higher revenues….lower tax rates.

      • Ctrot

        Math is tough, for leftists.

      • peterjohn936

        Heard that stupidity all of the time. I am not even sure it is true. And I don’t care. What I care about is that the deficit is bigger and the debt is bigger. What I want is a tax plan that put the federal government in the black so we can start paying down the debt. And no starving the poor is not moral so it isn’t an option.

        • NavySubNuke

          Go ahead and google it sometime…. he is correct that revenue in 2018 is at a record high. The reason the deficit is growing is because spending is still higher then even our record revenue.
          If congress really wants to fix the problem they just have to stop spending so much money. There is plenty of money coming in to pay for things that are actually necessary.

          • peterjohn936

            You do know our population rises every year so if Congress did nothing the tax revenues would have increased. Our GDP also increased so the tax revenues would have increase. And while cutting spending as always been the mantra, increased spending has always been the fact. Not doing anything was a possibility and raising taxes on the rich whose income far exceed their spending was again another possibility. Our economy did not need a boost from a tax cut. If Congress was worried about the stagnant median wage problem they could have simply increase the Minimum Wage.

          • old guy

            The high corporate taxes here are, indeed, what drove companies offshore. For example, per Apple annual report, Labor cost difference US/China of an I-phone is <$24.00.The corporate tax at 36% iis $246.00. A tax drop of 12% would bring it to $162.00, which could possibly be enough to repatriate the manufacture.

      • DaSaint

        Prove it.

  • Beomoose

    It does at times seem like this is the “plan.”

    • old guy

      Ridiculo Ad Absurdum

  • old guy

    Can you imagine what would happen, if some Defense Sec’y or Admiral, or General stated,”I believe that the Defense budget is more than adequate, but better planning must be instituted to achieve our goals,”
    It boggles the mind.