This post has been updated to note the markup ended and the bill will next be heading to a House floor vote.
The House Armed Services Committee reiterated its support for Navy shipbuilding today in an all-day markup of its annual defense bill, voting to include money for an additional Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) and issuing an opening argument to the Senate for an additional Virginia-class attack submarine.
A key difference in the House and Senate versions of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act is the Virginia SSN program. The Navy originally planned to buy two a year, but at the last minute the service saw its funding cut, and the final Pentagon budget request to lawmakers asked for just one SSN.
Whereas the Senate bumped up its shipbuilding proposal to include advance procurement as a down payment to restore that submarine somewhere in the future, the HASC made clear today it insists on buying that boat now.
“Going back to last February’s budget submission, it became immediately clear that we were facing daunting challenges in our subcommittee’s jurisdiction. Airlift and sealift were under-resourced; the Navy’s shipbuilding budget was cut by 17 percent from last year; the request for new ships, as verified by the Congressional Research Service, was actually seven – the lowest since 2009; and the statutory requirement for the Defense Department to submit a 30-year shipbuilding plan was and continues to be brazenly ignored,” HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Courtney said in his opening statement.
“Thankfully, our mark is actually aligned to the Navy’s actual requested priorities that were not included in last February’s budget. … The mark reverses one of the most confounding elements of this year’s budget: the elimination of a Virginia class submarine, which would disrupt the two-a-year build rate for the first time in a decade. Since 2011, our subcommittee and Congress has diligently sustained the two-sub build rate as a way of mitigating the decline in our submarine fleet, and has previously approved $1.1 billion to support a second 2021 submarine. We have heard from Navy officials again and again that there is industrial base capacity to support a second submarine in 2021, and that restoration of that platform is their number-one unfunded priority that represents the most cost-effective and least disruptive way to mitigate our declining fleet.”
Courtney then turned to subcommittee staffer Phil MacNaughton to explain the impact of not buying the sub now on the workforce at General Dynamics Electric Boat and its contractors – without directly addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee, but likely preempting any arguments that may arise when the two committees come together to work out the differences in their bills.
“Because of the multiyear contract that the Virginia class is under, if the second FY ‘21 boat is not authorized and appropriated, the shipbuilders will continue to build a second Virginia starting in FY ‘21 because of the multiyear – so they will essentially be bringing work forward under that contract. The result of that will be, if they maintain the current schedule that they are, or if they recover schedule as they’re planning to do, by the time they get to the end of FY ‘23 they will run out of Virginia class work to start. And due to the nature of the contract they have with their unions, they are required, if there’s a reduction in workforce, to lay off the most recent hires. And that would be the second year of production on the Columbia-class submarine. So the result will be, they will actually have to be laying off workers they anticipated to hire for Columbia due to the reduction in Virginia-class work,” MacNaughton said, referring to the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine that is already on a tight construction and delivery schedule and is a top Navy and Pentagon acquisition priority.
“So if the second submarine is not authorized and appropriated in FY ‘21, we’ll see potentially an impact to Columbia in FY ’23 – and at that point there’s very few levers for the Navy to pull to try and help that workforce and help correct the Columbia.”
Added Navy Spending
During the markup process today, the HASC members unanimously approved a package of amendments that included some funding plus-ups for the Navy – including $260 million for an Austal-built EPF.
That ship would be paid for by raiding the Air Force’s KC-46A and MC-130J procurement lines by about $120 million each, and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship mission modules procurement line by $20 million.
The package of amendments also included $130 million for MQ-4 Triton unmanned aircraft procurement, with the money coming from Army research and development funds for improvements to the 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer.
Within the Navy budget, an amendment would take $5 million from the LCS mission module funding line and devote it to academic partnerships to research an undersea vehicle for undersea warfare.
One amendment that could not be voted on that could be very meaningful to the Navy was from ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who wanted to address the challenges the services have with their operations and maintenance funding expiring at the end of the fiscal year, putting spenders in the position of having to “use it or lose it” – and if they don’t spend the money, they risk Congress using that as a reason to cut their budgets in future years.
Thornberry said operations and maintenance is typically the largest DoD spending category, and O&M money spent is September is “an enormous share” of the total O&M allotment each year.
“I’m trying to say, okay, 50 percent of what you don’t spend, you can hold over to another year,” he said during the markup. Several departments – Homeland Security, Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development – already have that authority, he said, and he wanted DoD to have the same ability rather than wasting money for the sake of spending it.
However, the issue crosses into the House Appropriations Committee’s jurisdiction and they would not waive their right to weigh in on the topic, Thornberry said, so he withdrew the amendment.
“We can fuss and complain all we want about DoD not spending money efficiently, but here the problem is us, and as a Congress we can fix it if we just will,” he said, suggesting he may raise the issue again on the House floor.
“We cannot let territorial parochialism prevent a fix that is working in other departments and that would make such a difference.”
Amendments were also added that direct the Navy and Pentagon to look into certain topics of interest to the lawmakers.
Though the committee made clear earlier in the NDAA process that they are uncomfortable with the Navy’s plans for testing and fielding Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSVs), an amendment that passed today questions USVs place in the Navy’s battle force and whether they count as proper warships.
“In light of expanding maritime threats, the committee strongly supports efforts to grow naval force structure. … As the Navy continues to develop the Integrated Naval Force Structure and 30 Year Shipbuilding plan, there has been increasing discussion, including from the Department of the Navy, whether unmanned vessels should be included in the Department’s ship counting methodology. Recognizing both the growing promise of unmanned vessels and the important roles played by existing battle force inventory ships, the committee believes the Secretary of the Navy should examine the intrinsic warfighting capabilities of vessels when considering its future ship counting methodology. Therefore, the Committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to provide a report to the congressional defense committees, by January 1, 2021 as to Navy’s plan to assess the family of unmanned underwater and surface vessels incorporation into the ship counting methodology of section 231(f) of title 10, United States Code. For the purposes of making this determination, for both manned and unmanned vessels, this report shall assess factors such as: (1) Intended mission, in both competition and conflict; (2) Capability, either through a platform’s weapons, sensors, or embarked personnel to interact with targets beyond visual range; (3) Ability to perform fleet support functions essential to power projection or sea control in competition or conflict.”
Also on prototyping and fielding new programs, an amendment notes challenges the Ford-class aircraft carrier program has had introducing new technologies onto the ship, and questions the service’s decision to accept ships that contain technologies not yet fully proven.
“Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees by February 1, 2021 detailing the number of times the Navy has accepted a ship prior to the incorporation and completion of major subsystems over the last twenty years, the circumstances that drove the Navy to accept such ship, and the length of time between acceptance and final incorporation of such subsystems. Additionally, the committee directs the Secretary to specifically assess emerging technologies, their associated technology readiness levels and required prototyping activities that are being incorporated in emerging programs including the following specific programs: Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine; the guided missiles frigate; the next generation attack submarine; large surface combatant; and, the large unmanned surface vessel.”
On the Marine Corps side, an amendment notes the success the Marine Corps has had with its CH-53E heavy lift helicopter reset effort, meant to overhaul the aging aircraft and bring up their readiness rates. It suggests a similar strategy could help other aircraft types that are still struggling to achieve the improved readiness rates that other airframes across the services are seeing after an infusion of money to support maintenance, spare parts, logistics and other readiness enablers.
“The committee notes the age of several rotary wing airframes in the Marine Corps fleet, which are experiencing long-term downtime and readiness issues. The committee encourages the Marine Corps to embark upon additional reset programs, as necessary, to revitalize and refresh the fleet. The committee notes the success of similar resets, including the ongoing CH-53 reset and resets conducted by the U.S. Army, which have improved reliability and readiness. The committee directs the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps to brief the committee, not later than September 30, 2020, on the status of the Marine Corps rotary wing fleet and all planned reset programs for the fleet. In particular, the briefing shall address— (1) the state of the UH-1 Iroquois and AH-1 Cobra fleets; (2) funding needs for reset activities; (3) strategies to maintain reset throughput in a timely manner; and (4) an acquisition strategy to maintain cost, schedule, and performance in the reset program.”
Another amendment worries that the Navy does not have sufficiently realistic threat-representative ballistic missile targets for its ballistic missile defense force to train with.
“The Navy does currently not have an inventory of affordable ballistic missile, threat-representative targets to test and evaluate the proficiency of its ballistic missile defense ships and crews to include new Aegis DDG construction and modernization. The committee believes the inability to test and evaluate its ballistic missile defense ships and crews against threat-representative targets directly impacts the overall proficiency, readiness and combat capability of the fleet,” the amendment reads.
“Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to provide a briefing to the committee by November 30, 2020, that includes a plan to fund the procurement of low-cost, subscale ballistic missile threat-representative targets to maintain the fleet proficiency of the Navy’s ballistic missile defense ships and crews… and direction for Navy Air Systems Command and Surface Warfare Directorate to execute procurement and execution of the ballistic missile defense fleet proficiency plan.”
Another proposed working with Japan on a new anti-ship missile.
“The committee supports the successful U.S.-Japanese co development of the SM-3 Block IIA ballistic missile interceptor as well as the need for ground-based anti-ship cruise missiles to defend United States and allied forces in the Indo- Pacific against growing threats in the region. The committee continues to strongly support efforts to expand defense industrial cooperation with the Government of Japan. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to submit to the congressional defense committees a report by January 1, 2021, on the desirability and feasibility of: (a) co-developing a next generation ground-based anti-ship missile with the Government of Japan; and (b) technology transfer options to enhance joint missile development.”
Those amendments were all approved by the HASC in the markup, which wrapped up just before midnight after starting at 10 a.m. The legislation is still subject to a House floor debate and vote, likely later this month, before the House and Senate will resolve the differences.