ARLINGTON, Va. – Two House Armed Services Committee lawmakers forecast a difficult upcoming budget cycle for the Navy and criticized the service for not coming to Congress with a strategy to build a fleet that can counter China.
Speaking to the annual Surface Navy Association symposium, Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) voiced concern over the Navy’s impending Fiscal Year 2023 budget submission.
“Everything I hear from inside the building, not with details, is that the next one is actually going to be worse,” Luria said of the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, comparing it to the FY 2022 plan that asked for fewer battleforce ships than previously projected.
“And it really frightens me. It frightens me when we have … increased aggressive actions of China against Taiwan, not only in rhetoric, but their sorties,” she added.
Gallagher echoed Luria’s concerns and said he has heard similar rumblings about the budget slated for release in the coming months.
“It could be a bloodbath for the Navy,” he said.
Luria, a former nuclear-qualified surface warfare officer, argued the threat from China means more resources should get allocated to the Navy and the Air Force for a conflict in the Indo-Pacific theater and that the Pentagon should depart from the traditional even budget split between the Army, Air Force and Navy.
“It’s really hard to break that paradigm – essentially the one-third, one-third, one-third paradigm – amongst the services,” she said.
Gallagher said that when asked what legacy systems should be divested, Pentagon officials cite both Army force structure and Pentagon civilian force structure.
The two lawmakers, who both sit on the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee, also expressed concern over the potential for a year-long continuing resolution for FY 2022. Gallagher described CRs as “incredibly damaging,” while Luria said a year-long CR would have “disastrous” consequences for the Navy.
“We definitely need to pass the defense appropriations bill this year. There are threats in the Senate right now of some senators saying they want to just have a CR for the entire year. That would be disastrous for the Navy,” Luria said. “And that is really tied up in a very political fight of saying, ‘we need to maintain the spending levels of the last administration,’ i.e. we need to not put more in these social programs, but that’s locking in DOD at the point that they’re at, but doing that via a CR is disastrous.”
Continuing resolutions keep the Pentagon’s funding at the prior fiscal year levels and prevent the Defense Department from spending money on new start programs. The current CR keeps the government funded through Feb. 18.
In a speech to the surface warfare community, Gallagher echoed Luria’s repeated calls for a fleet architecture for 2025, citing the threat of China invading Taiwan in the next few years.
“If the new [National Defense Strategy] walks away from the 2018 NDS’s useful concept of deterrence by denial in favor of integrated deterrence …. I think it will reduce our ability to deny a fait accompli over Taiwan and therefore make one more likely, either through preemptive surrender or battlefield defeat,” Gallagher told the symposium.
“The goods new is that we can prevent this from happening. It’s within our power to actually get our act together by abandoning vacuous buzzwords and just doing the hard work of building a battle force that is ready by 2025, not 2045.”
The year 2045 is a reference to the Battle Force 2045 proposal former Defense Secretary Mark Esper put forward in the last months of the Trump administration.
Gallagher, a former Marine, emphasized the need for conventional platforms and weapons like ships, bombers and missiles to counter China, and criticized the divest to invest approach the Navy has taken to its budgets in seeking to shed legacy systems for new technologies.
“I think this jargon provides pseudo-intellectual cover for political leadership that is too weak or too distracted to give the military what it needs to execute its missions or make hard choices between the military services, that might actually free up resources for the main effort – deterring China from invading Taiwan,” he said of the divest to invest approach.
Both Luria and Gallagher referenced the timeline former U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. Phil Davidson mentioned before Congress last year, when he said China could have the capability to try to seize Taiwan in the next six years.
In addition to advocating for a larger fleet to counter China, Luria argued the U.S. should alter its strategic ambiguity policy toward Taiwan.
“From our overall national policy, are we actually going to come to the defense of Taiwan? The strategic ambiguity that we have right now, it’s ambiguous,” Luria said.
“I think it is time for us to be clear on whether we are going to do that. And that would inform everything we’re doing. I mean, we spin our wheels about what do we need and why and do we respond or do we not respond,” she continued. “I mean, the Chinese either think we are going to or they don’t. But I think we are past the point of strategic ambiguity being an adequate strategy with regards to this situation.”
Noting that the U.S. does not have a cooperative security agreement in place with Taiwan, Luria pointed to the president needing authority from Congress to respond should China attack Taiwan. But going to Congress would likely slow down what would needs to be a quicker reaction timeline.
“My personal opinion is that we should develop a policy that says the United States will react in order to maintain the status quo,” she said.
While Gallagher said the Navy must focus on a near-term threat from China and its potential to invade Taiwan, he also emphasized the need for the Navy to invest in its future DDG(X) next-generation destroyer program.
“We absolutely, positively need to move out on DDG(X) to ensure our surface fleet is competitive in the 2030s and beyond,” the Wisconsin lawmaker said.
He noted the difficult and “distrust” plaguing the Navy, Congress and industry in its pursuit of new programs and called for the Navy to continue a two-per-year cadence on destroyers both for a new Arleigh Burke-class Flight III multi-year procurement contract and the future DDG(X).
“So what I propose is the department should commit to funding two large surface combatants a year for – let’s say 10 years – during which the transition from Flight III … to DDG(X) occurs,” he said. “Congress in turn will commit to fully funding the DDG(X) program and from there, the Navy will need to provide a plan to both Congress and industry to move forward from two Flight IIIs per year to two DDG(X)s per year over a three to five year transition. I know that the next-gen DDG won’t be online for a 2020s fight, but my point here is you can build a battle force 2025 without neglecting our longer term modernization priorities.”
Luria repeated her previous criticism that the Navy does not tell Congress what it needs and why, and what the consequences would be if the service does not receive those resources. She argued the Navy needs to come to lawmakers with a long-range proposal to meet its strategy and build toward a larger fleet.
“A 30-year shipbuilding plan that changes in years one to five every single time we get it really isn’t a long range 30-year shipbuilding plan,” Luria said of the annual shipbuilding blueprint.