A year-long continuing resolution would force the Navy to miss deadlines on delivering the first Columbia class ballistic missile submarine, the service’s top officer told House appropriators Wednesday.
In prepared testimony on Columbia, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told the panel that “since the shipbuilding account is uniquely line-item appropriated, the CR provides insufficient funding for SSBN-826, our first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and number one modernization priority. … If the CR is extended over the full year, we expect construction delays to the Columbia-class program and costs to grow, increasing delivery risk to this critical system and threatening our ability to meet U.S. Strategic Command requirements. This is a program with zero margin for delays.”
A year-long CR would force the Marine Corps to perform “triage” on recruiting and its Force Design 2030 plans, while the Navy would have to delay needed maintenance on five submarines and two aircraft carriers, the sea service chiefs told Congress.
“We’ll hold the door as best we can” in keeping pace with China and Russia if Congress fails to pass a budget by Feb. 18, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. Buys would be reduced for a number of aircraft and the plan to rid the service of the Amphibious Assault Vehicle for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle would be on hold.
In his prepared testimony, the commandant said he assumed money for the ACV would be stable and predictable in the new budget. “Under the CR, that no-risk decision has become a high-risk decision, and will result in [Marine Expeditionary Units] of the future deploying with no organic self-deploying amphibious ground connector. This is not what I want, and not what the Combatant Commanders need.”
Looking at future investments like hypersonics, where Beijing and Moscow are spending heavily, Gilday said “we’re going to slow that program down to keep it alive” if the continuing resolution is extended to Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
“We can’t make that [needed investment in science and technology and research and accounts] up in a year,” Berger said, referring to the freezes on new spending the resolution requires. “We will not be able to catch up” because “the competition is going to make that investment.”
Noting the three percent gap that already exists in filling sea-going billets in the Navy, Gilday told the defense subcommittee the gap will grow substantially without a budget “where we need those people most at the tip of the spear.”
He said the Navy would reduce accessions by 70 percent and delay 50 percent of planned or already scheduled PCS moves.
Asked specifically about China’s threats against Taiwan, Gilday said, “we need to be in the way … in numbers,” but that presence could be in question without a signed budget. He said a year-long continuing resolution, rather than a budget, would wreak havoc on the Navy’s operations and maintenance accounts that go toward readiness and training. He added that the Navy also would be forced to look at cutting spending in flight training to keep within the tight limits of the continuing resolution and absorb the 2.7 percent military pay raise.
Gilday and Berger said that retention bonuses and special pays would have to be scrubbed closely or cut if a budget isn’t passed.
A Marine Corps recruiter “is going to have to tell the people, ‘can’t bring you in now, can you wait, six, eight, nine months,’” Berger said. The reality, he added, is that a qualified high school or college graduate isn’t going to wait and the service will feel that decision in the future.
“In a flat account, we have to do something” and that means scaling back recruiting and delaying permanent change of station moves for starters to cover the pay raise, said Mike McCord, the Pentagon comptroller. He said holding defense spending to last year’s level would be $8 billion below what other congressional committees have approved for the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
“We’ve been slowly boiling this pig” of using continuing resolutions over approving a new budget for 20 years. McCord said the impact of a year-long continuing resolution, which had never happened before, would translate to $24 billion not spent on recruiting and retention, needed research and development and new programs, training exercises and eroded away by inflation in continuing operations and programs.
Continuing resolutions “eat away at trust,” needed in an all-volunteer force, erode the industrial base and raise questions of U.S. dependability among allies, Berger said.
He said, “this train wreck in front of us is entirely preventable.’
“Every day matters” in passing a budget, Gilday said.
Speaking at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium on Wednesday, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said that despite the CR, he is optimistic about funding for the Coast Guard.
“In a smaller service like the Coast Guard, which competes with shipyard availability with the Navy on much smaller dollar values, I can tell you it can be crippling in terms of giving up the first three months or the first five months of a fiscal year,” Schultz said. “We just got some authorities for two-year maintenance [availability] which made us a little more agile in that space but it’s a big deal for a service like the Coast Guard operating under CR year in and year out.”