HASC Bill Calls for SECNAV to Study Hypersonic Weapons for More Warships, Merging Army and Navy Watercraft Programs

June 14, 2023 7:40 PM
A common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, at approximately 10:30 p.m. local time on March 19, 2020. US Navy Photo

The House Armed Services Committee wants the Navy to evaluate options for fielding hypersonic weapons on surface ships beyond the Zumwalt-class destroyers.

The HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee’s mark of the Fiscal Year 2024 policy bill wants a briefing from the Navy Secretary to the full committee on the service’s options by April 15th of next year.

“The briefing should include, at a minimum, how the MK 41 Vertical Launching System cells on DDGs can be modified to take on CPS-sized missiles for future and current classes of Navy warships, estimated costs to implement such modifications, and potential impacts to the existing missions of the DDG fleet,” the mark reads.

The mark notes lawmakers back the Navy’s ongoing work to field hypersonics on the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyers and the Virginia-class attack boats.

Navy officials have said they want to field hypersonics on the Zumwalt class by 2025 and on the Virginia boats by 2028, but the Government Accountability Office in a recent report said those timelines face delays, USNI News previously reported.

The HASC seapower panel’s mark, released this week and reported to the full HASC on Tuesday, also authorizes the Navy to ink a multiyear procurement contract for 13 Block VI Virginia-class boats.

“By authorizing multiyear procurement authority for 13 Virginia-class submarines, the subcommittee’s bipartisan mark ensures the Navy has the authority to exceed the two-per-year build cadence for Virginia-class submarines—demonstrating Congress’ commitment to meeting the Navy’s fleet requirements while supporting the AUKUS agreement,” HASC seapower ranking member Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) said in a statement this week about the bill.

Virginia-class submarine with the Virginia Payload Module

Courtney was referring to the agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the Unites States, known as AUKUS, to share technology, including nuclear propulsion for attack boats. Under a multi-phased deal announced earlier this year, the Royal Australian Navy could buy up to five Virginia boats in the 2030s before Australia has the infrastructure and workforce to build its own boats domestically.

The U.S. Navy has been purchasing two Virginia boats per year, but the submarine industrial base is only currently building about 1.2 submarines per year.

Lawmakers also want the Navy to evaluate how the service could use the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport Ships in the Indo-Pacific. The seapower mark requires the Chief of Naval Operations to work with Military Sealift Command, which owns the ships, on a strategy. The CNO must provide the House and Senate defense authorizers and appropriators with a report on the strategy within a month of its creation.

The same provision would also stop the Navy from using any FY 2024 authorized funds to place any EPFs in a “reduced operational status.” During a May trip to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, USNI News observed two EPFs – USNS Spearhead (T-EPF-1) and USNS Choctaw County (T-EPF-2) – pierside. Choctaw is currently listed as in active service on the Naval Vessel Register, while Spearhead is not.

USNS Spearhead (EPF-1) on in Philadelphia on May 23, 2023. USNI News Photo

Lawmakers also directed the Navy to assess merging the Navy and Marine Corps Landing Ship Medium – previously known as the Light Amphibious Warship – and the Army’s Maneuver Support Vessel so the services could potentially pursue contracts and block buys together.

Specifically, the panel wants the service to assess “a shared base platform contract to expedite production, provide cost savings from block buys and higher quantity and guarantee contracts, and the series of options to make this possible in the most efficient timeline to provide capability to forces in-theater faster,” according to the mark.

The Navy Secretary must give House authorizers a report on the potential for the merger by Dec. 15.

Lawmakers reported each subcommittee bill to the committee this week. The full committee mark is scheduled for next week.

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne is a reporter for USNI News. She previously covered the Navy for Inside Defense and reported on politics for The Hill.
Follow @MalShelbourne

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