President Donald Trump released his Fiscal Year 2020 budget priorities Monday, which includes several Navy programs he intends to fund in his $718-billion Department of Defense budget request.
The White House request includes adding a third Virginia-class attack submarine to the Navy’s planned FY 2020 purchase and a third Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. The request also steers money toward improving aviation readiness, ship readiness and recruitment and retention activities, according to the White House budget summary.
The addition of a third attack submarine to the budget was welcomed by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), who chairs the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee and whose district includes one of two submarine construction yards.
“Today’s announcement is a welcome reversal from the Department of Defense which, just eight months ago, publicly opposed my efforts to increase fast attack submarine construction to three per year,” Courtney said in a statement.
“This decision to finally accede to the demands of our combatant commanders and the work of the House Seapower Subcommittee sets out important work ahead for our subcommittee and the entire Congress to fulfill this request.”
However, the upcoming FY 2020 budget process will likely encounter some resistance from lawmakers because 22 percent of the $713 billion – $165 billion – falls in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. In comparison, last year Congress appropriated a total of $68.8 billion in OCO funding.
DoD is supposed to use OCO funding to pay for combat operations overseas. Past DoD documents, though, indicate a significant portion of OCO funding has paid for routine defense spending items rather than unexpected wartime costs, according to a January Congressional Research Service report.
Some lawmakers have been trying to reduce the reliance on OCO spending, moving more items back into the Pentagon’s base budget as they’ve been able to.
The budget request is already being met with criticism. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said the FY 2020 request, when adjusted for inflation, represents only about a 2.7 percent increase from the FY 2019 request.
“Despite some headlines, this level of spending is the minimum needed to continue to repair our military and defend the country,” Thornberry said in a Monday statement. “This total level of spending, however it is constructed, is the minimum we need to provide if we are to fulfill our responsibilities.”
During the next several months, as lawmakers debate the Pentagon’s budget, the following funding priorities are likely to be among the most significant that will be under consideration as part of the Navy’s upcoming FY 2020 budget request due out tomorrow.
The Navy is facing a harsh recruiting environment, where the service is competing for talent against other branches of the military and a strong civilian job market.
The FY 2020 budget request includes a 3.1-percent pay raise for all active duty service members, according to the White House budget summary. The budget also requests money to pay for a wide variety of other financial incentives, including some related to recent changes to the military’s retirement program and to pay for quality of life programs for active duty service members and their families.
While the Navy’s budgeted end strength is rising and the service has met its recruiting goals, in the longer term the Navy is not retaining enough sailors to stay on track to man a 355-ship fleet. The Navy is short about 6,200 sailors today to meet its current at-sea requirements, and that shortfall in personnel could grow as more ships come online.
The Navy is using a variety of strategies, including increasing bonuses and revamping training for enlisted personnel and officers, to retain experienced staff.
Earlier this month the Navy released a draft request for proposals for the design and construction of a planned class of 20 next-generation guided-missile frigates (FFG(X)). The draft detailed a schedule for building the first 10 frigates in the class at a cost of $800 to $950 million each for hulls 2 through 10, Regan Campbell, the frigate program manager with Program Executive Office Unmanned and Small Combatants, said in January at the Surface Navy Association symposium. With a goal of awarding a contract during FY 2020, upcoming budget request will include the cost of purchasing the program’s first frigate, which is still unknown.
To mature the notion of the FFG(X) design, the Navy awarded small design contracts to five shipbuilders — Austal USA, Lockheed Martin, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Fincantieri Marine and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. However, the construction competition will be open to any competitor who can meet the requirements for a concept based on a mature parent design.
Destroyer Build Rate
As FY 2018 was ending, the Navy signed a five-year, $9-billion contract with Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works to build a total of 10 new Arleigh Burke destroyers, with options to produce up to five more if funding was available. The proposed FY 2020 budget calls for three destroyers, just like the FY 2019 budget did.
Each shipbuilder’s contract includes such options to build an additional DDG each year if funding is available, allowing the Navy to compete each option as it sees fit.
Carrier Funding Profile, Refueling USS Harry S. Truman
The Navy signed a two-ship $14.9 billion contract with HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding to cover the remaining design and construction costs of two Ford-class carriers, CVN-80 and-81, the first of which is in the early stages of production. The two-ship buy is expected to save the program up to $4 billion, according to a February Congressional Research Service report.
However, the Navy has some wiggle-room when it comes to paying for the two carriers, according to the CRS report. The two-ship deal has the Navy making payments for six years, gradually increasing in value. The question for FY 2020 is how much money is the Navy planning to spend on the future Enterprise (CVN-80).
The service had previously planned to spend $2.1 billion for Enterprise in FY 2020. Funding for CVN-81 is not scheduled to begin until FY 2021, according to the CRS report.
Meanwhile, there’s talk in the Pentagon about retiring USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) early instead of spending roughly $5.5 billion to refuel the carrier in FY 2024. In FY 2020, according to previous budget documents, the Navy was only set to spend $17 million on early planning work for that refueling and complex overhaul.
It’s unclear if there’s support for such a move by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, since allowing Truman to retire early would decrease the Navy’s carrier fleet to 10 at a time when the Navy is supposed to be working toward increasing the number of carriers to 12.
Next Generation Air Dominance Program Funding
The Navy is reportedly taking the next step toward developing what the air wing will look like after the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The budget request includes funding to modernize the current fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters. Monday’s White House release did not mention whether funding is also being requested to evaluate a possible Super Hornet replacement.
Three years have passed since the Navy stated the Next Generation Air Dominance program could include several different types of airframes, including unmanned platforms. The amount of money the Navy requests for this program will provide a good indication as to how soon the Navy plans to field these new fighters.
Unmanned Surface Vehicle Starts
The Navy says it’s committed to building up its unmanned surface vehicle (USV) fleet, and the next few months will provide some more clarity on what the Navy has planned. The White House request calls for funding for “two large experimental unmanned surface ships.”
This spring, the Navy is expected to release a request for proposals for a medium USV, up to 50 meters long, according to an unclassified readout of the program previously reviewed by USNI News. The Navy has not released cost information about this program.
Meanwhile, the Navy is already developing a USV to perform mine countermeasures missions. At the start of FY 2019, Naval Sea Systems Command received approval from the Pentagon’s leadership to start developing the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV).
Aviation Readiness Funding
The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have been charged with boosting their aviation readiness figures, with the Pentagon challenging them to reach 80-percent mission-capable rates for their aircraft by the end of 2019.
As part of the effort to meet that 80-percent goal, the FY 2020 budget will likely include funding to improve the way spare parts are purchased, managed and delivered from depots to the flight line.
The Navy has looked to the commercial aviation world for ideas, including hiring a former Southwest Airlines executive to revamp the way the Navy runs its supply chain. Reenlistment bonuses for aircraft maintainers are also being used to keep experienced personnel on the flight line.
Amphibious Warship Slowdown
FY 2020 could be a tighter fiscal year for shipbuilding, when compared to the past few years, creating concern on Capitol Hill and and in industry that some programs could be slowed down.
Building the next amphibious assault ship, LHA-9, has long been considered an FY 2024 project, which would mean enduring a seven-year gap between LHA starts. The Marine Corps and industry have asked to move up the start date to as early as FY 2021 to keep hot production lines running.
However, some press reports indicate that the Office of the Secretary of Defense is set on delaying the pace of amphibious warship construction.
In FY 2020 the Navy is likely to request about $2 billion for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, with the bulk of this money being used to continue advance procurement of parts and research and development activities before the heavy lifting of Columbia-class manufacturing starts in FY 2021, according to an October Congressional Research Service report. Beginning in FY 2021, the Columbia-related funding requests are expected to double, to $4 billion per year.
Even as the Navy is still in the early phases of funding what could be a $102-billion program, there’s already talk of expanding the program beyond 12 subs and developing a guided-missile submarine (SSGN) version of the Columbia class. The first Columbia-class SSBN is expected to join the fleet in 2028.