Congress has been asked to make major decisions on the Navy’s funding with limited information on the service’s future, two lawmakers said on Tuesday.
“We’re going to be using our best judgment” when working on the Fiscal Year 2022 defense authorization bill without necessary details, Reps. Joe Courtney, (D-Conn.), and chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said. Left unanswered in the Biden administration request and the Trump administration outline for a future Navy is “what the composition of that fleet will be and when we’ll get there” to the required 355-size, he added.
Rep. Rob Wittman, (R-Va.) and ranking member, said, “which ships of which class” are details Congress needs from the Navy, not just ideas on “range of ships” for some time way in the future.
The two predicted it could be a “pretty hard lift” putting a second destroyer back in the bill that the budget didn’t request while not retiring ships as the administration called for.
“What is the thinking [behind] cutting a destroyer” from the building program and aging out cruisers that still have Aegis capabilities the fleet needs, Courtney asked? Wittman wanted to know if Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger had been consulted over cuts to the amphibious shipbuilding numbers.
Both said at the Navy League event they and the industrial base needed to know at what rate the Navy intended to build ships – manned and unmanned. Courtney said that could mean “looking at adding capacity at another shipyard” to build unmanned vessels and the new frigate. He also mentioned expanding the existing yard’s capacity during the session.
Late in the session, Wittman suggested taking some of the funds proposed to rebuild infrastructure to applied, not only to public shipyards but private ones to modernize old facilities and expand their building and repair capacity.
On large unmanned systems, Courtney said, “it’s still a little bit of a question mark” as to what best fits the Navy’s future requirements. He warned Congress doesn’t want to find “five years down the road we started a program that doesn’t meet the nation’s needs.”
Wittman added, “we do not want to repeat the challenges we had with LCS [littoral combat ships] in developing unmanned vessels and future frigates. Both “also require some urgency” in spelling out what is required and timetables for development and delivery.
“Simple is good,” Courtney said about the frigate program. “We need that capability. Let’s not re-invent the wheel” where other nations have successfully built this class of ships.
Wittman, “we don’t want to [discourage] innovation” in shipbuilding programs but he said good concepts, like modularity, must prove capable of working with existing systems and ones that can be updated. That was a problem with LCS, he said.
Looking at the impact of Columbia on shipbuilding spending for the rest of the decade, Courtney said he wanted to work with the Navy and the Pentagon’s civilian leadership on ways of spreading the cost of a once-in-a-generation program across the larger defense budget.