SASC Fiscal Year 2024 Defense Bill Calls for 10 New Ships, Demands New Shipbuilding Plan

June 23, 2023 4:04 PM
The future Richard M. McCool Jr. (LPD-29) launching at Ingalls Shipbuilding, Mississippi. HII Photo

The Senate Armed Services Committee authorized the Navy to buy 10 battle force ships in its version of the annual defense policy bill, an increase from the nine ships the service asked for in its budget proposal.

The Fiscal Year 2024 legislation, which passed the committee this week and will now go to the Senate floor, approves one Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine, two Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two Virginia-class attack boats, two Constellation-class frigates, one San Antonio-class LPD-17 Flight II amphibious transport dock, one John Lewis-class fleet oiler, and one next-generation submarine tender replacement known as AS(X).

The Senate’s bill matches the House Armed Service’s Committee amended legislation that also authorizes 10 ships. Both chambers authorized the Navy to buy an LPD-17 Flight II ship that the service did not ask for in the proposal. The amended version of the HASC bill gives the Navy incremental funding authority to buy the LPD.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the chairman of the SASC seapower subcommittee, in a Friday call with reporters, described a “battle” between the panel, the White House and the Office of the Secretary of Defense over the Navy meeting the mandated minimum number of amphibious ships.

Kaine, noting the legal requirement for the Navy to have a floor of 31 amphibious ships, said the current FY 2024 30-year shipbuilding plan does not achieve that mandate.

“This is a battle I think that’s between the Navy and the White House and the SECDEF’s office. I think the Navy – Secretary Del Toro and Commandant Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Gilday – have all said exactly the same thing. We all need 31 ready amphibs,” Kaine said.
“So when the budget comes over and there’s no path to 31 and you ask the question why? You just told us you need them. The answer is because the [Office of Management and Budget] and the White House and the SECDEF’s office decided that didn’t make the cut. What we have done in the bill is ordered them to give us a shipbuilding plan that shows how they get to 31.”

Within two months of the NDAA becoming law, the Navy must submit a new shipbuilding plan to Congress that shows the service achieving the 31 amphibious ship floor, according to Kaine.

“We’re putting them on notice – you’ve got to rewrite the shipbuilding plan,” Kaine said. “We imposed some financial consequences in the bill on particular Navy [operations and maintenance] accounts if they don’t.”

The bill also stops the Navy from decommissioning one Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and three Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships early, according to a SASC summary of the bill. The service’s FY 2024 proposal asked to retire three Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships – USS Germantown (LSD-42), USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) and USS Tortuga (LSD-46) – and three Ticonderoga-class cruisers before they reach their projected service lives.

While the HASC bill abolishes the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, the SASC bill “[e]xpresses the sense of the Senate that the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) is vital to U.S. defense acquisition, and requires new responsibilities for CAPE to improve the methods and effectiveness of its analyses,” according to the committee summary.

The legislation also authorizes a 5.2 percent pay increase for service members and civilians and creates a program for the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, known as SLCM-N. The Senate’s bill “fully funds a joint” effort between the Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration to pursue SLCM-N. The Biden administration canceled the program in its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, but some lawmakers have pushed the Defense Department to pursue that capability. The HASC bill as amended also created a SLCM-N program.

The SASC bill authorizes $886 billion for national defense, matching the Biden administration’s request. While lawmakers the last few years have authorized and appropriated boosts to the defense budget, the debt ceiling deal reached between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) confines Congress to the president’s request.

According to the SASC summary, the legislation as amended “[e]xpresses the sense of the Senate that there are growing national security concerns that require additional funds beyond the defense spending limit and urges the President to send emergency supplemental funding requests to address those concerns, to include continued support for Ukraine, additional munitions production, and additional naval vessels and combat vehicles.”

Meanwhile, the panel this week also voted Gen. Eric Smith’s nomination to become the next Marine Corps Commandant out of committee. Smith’s and a host of other DoD nominations are held up by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) over a rule allowing the Pentagon to pay for service members to travel out of state for non-covered reproductive care, including abortions.

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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