Wicker Outlines Shipbuilding Priorities

Seapower Chairman Says Sequestration Threatens Vitality of Navy, Marine Corps

March 18, 2015

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Seapower, delivered the following opening statement at today’s subcommittee hearing to review Navy shipbuilding programs in advance of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program:

“Now more than ever, a strong Navy is central to our nation’s ability to deter adversaries, assure allies, and defend our national interests.  Our Sailors and Marines are at the forefront of our rebalance to Asia, our ongoing operations against the Islamic State, and our efforts to deter rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

“However, our current fleet of 275 ships is insufficient to address these critical security challenges.  The Navy’s stated force structure requirement is 306 ships.  The bipartisan National Defense Panel calls for a fleet of 323 to 346 ships.  And our Combatant Commanders say they require 450 ships.  Despite these publicly stated requirements by our military leaders, the Navy says that sequestration could shrink our fleet to 260 ships.

“Not only is our Navy too small, it is also not as ready as it should be.  Sequestration in 2013 and a high operational tempo in Asia and the Middle East have led our naval fleet to endure major readiness shortfalls, including longer deployments, reduced training time, and reduced surge capability.  I am deeply concerned about the potential impact these factors will have on our ability to deter and confront future adversaries.  These factors could also endanger the long-term vitality of the Navy’s highly-skilled and all-volunteer force of Sailors and Marines.

“This morning I would like to hear from our witnesses on what I consider five key issues that our subcommittee will review this year:

First, the viability of the 30-year shipbuilding plan is essential to the strength of our shipbuilding industrial base.  The unique strength of the skills, capabilities, and capacities inherent to new construction shipyards and weapon system developers can reinforce the Navy’s dominant maritime position.  I would like our witnesses to relate how they carefully weighed the effects on the shipbuilding industrial base when they balanced resources and requirements in the shipbuilding plan.

“Second, it is critical this subcommittee conduct rigorous oversight of shipbuilding programs to ensure the Navy is making the best use of limited taxpayer dollars.  The Congress expects the Ford-class nuclear aircraft carrier program and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to deliver promised capability on-time and on-budget.  Delays or unsatisfactory test results could result in cost growth and challenges for the legacy platforms these ships will replace.  With regard to the Navy’s decision on the upgraded LCS known as the Small Surface Combatant, this subcommittee needs clarity on the specific Combatant Commander gaps these upgraded ships may fill.  Our subcommittee would also like to know which threat benchmarks these ships should be measured against.

Third, this subcommittee also has a duty to shape the future of our Navy.  Each of our classes of surface combatant ships – cruisers, destroyers, and littoral combat ships – will begin retiring within the next 20 years.  Now is the time to establish the analytical framework to replace them.  I am also deeply concerned that the extraordinary cost of the Ohio-class submarine Replacement Program, or ORP, could place tremendous stress on our already constrained shipbuilding budget.  This subcommittee looks forward to working with the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy on innovative approaches to fund the ORP, which is a vital leg of our nuclear triad.

Fourth, I am interested in learning the views of our witnesses on ways we can ensure the Navy shipbuilding plan meets the demand from our combatant commanders for amphibious ships. This demand is greater than 50 amphibious ships at any given time.  I am pleased to note that the Navy has funded LPD-28, the twelfth San Antonio-class amphibious ship.  As we continue to pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region, the Navy and Marine Corps will serve as the lynchpin of American force projection abroad.  Our subcommittee would like to know more about the acquisition strategy for the LHA-8 big-deck amphibious ship, the first six ships of the new fleet oiler, and our next generation amphibious assault ship known as the LXR.

Finally, the Navy continues to face significant budget challenges.  Navy funding has already been reduced $25 billion compared to the budget requests over the last three years.  Admiral Greenert testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in January that maintenance and training backlogs from budget cuts have ‘reduced the Navy’s ability to maintain required forces for contingency response to meet Combatant Command operational plan requirements.’  As a member of both the Armed Services Committee and the Budget Committee, I know that tough decisions must be made across the federal government.  But I would remind everyone that national defense is solely a federal responsibility.  Defense spending is also known as a ‘twofer,’ supporting both our national security and our high-tech manufacturing workforce.”