Over the last few months we have heard increasingly urgent testimony about the growing concern regarding our ability to meet the demand for undersea capabilities.
Recent events around the world clearly demonstrate, the presence and capabilities of our forces on, below and above the seas are in higher demand than at any other time in recent history. Yet these forces are under significant pressure in meeting growing operational needs and keeping pace with developments around the world in the face of limited resources.
The 2017 budget request made, in my view, a number of meaningful investments in the capabilities of our air, marine and naval forces while also ensuring that they have the capacity to utilize them. For shipbuilding, the budget requested $18 billion for seven new ships and well as continued construction and overhaul of our carriers – putting our nation on track to reach the goal of a 308 ship Navy in five years.
Our mark builds on this foundation, adding three new ships, including a third Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to address concerns about our ability to meet the Navy’s stated force requirements of 52 small surface combatants. We also added additional funding to complete a third DDG-51 destroyer that was partially funded last year, and fully authorized continued development of the game-changing Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). We also add resources for an additional amphibious ship—with flexibility for the Navy to pursue an additional LPD or an accelerated LX(R).
Our mark also supports and adds to the range of capabilities called for in the 2017 budget that will increase the reach and punch of our forces, such as fully supporting the budget request for continued development of the B-21 long range strike bomber and 15 KC-46A tanker aircraft, both of which will be powered by Pratt & Whitney engines.
We also supported the department’s revised way forward on integrating unmanned capability in our carrier air wings, ensuring that as we move forward on the tanking and ISR focused approach for the near-term, we also preserve precision strike capability as part of the platforms future growth.
We’ve supported a wide range of upgraded weapons and capabilities aimed at increasing the range and lethality of our forces, such anti-surface capability to programs like the SM-6, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), incorporating over the horizon capabilities into the LCS, and doubling the number of Tomahawk cruise missiles, among others. A few other items of particular interest I would like to highlight.
First, over the last few months we have heard increasingly urgent testimony about the growing concern regarding our ability to meet the demand for undersea capabilities. Our combatant commanders have made clear to us that the current fleet of 54 attack submarines—let alone the future force of 41 or even 48—cannot adequately meet the demand for undersea capabilities.
To this end, our mark not only supports the construction of two Virginia-class submarines in 2017, but also directs the Navy to provide us with a full assessment of the ability of the industrial base to sustain the current two-a-year build rate not just in 2021 but also through the 2020’s. And, we fully support the continued development of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) to ensure that our submarines are able to meet future strike and payload delivery needs.
We also provided full support to the requested funding levels for the development and design of the Ohio Replacement submarine, ensuring that we continue to make steady progress on this foundational component of our nation’s security. The 2017 budget is particularly significant because it marks the first time that funds for this national priority appeared in the shipbuilding account—making the debate over the funding strategy for this essential program, and the full range of shipbuilding needs in the coming decades, more urgent than ever before.
Last year saw much debate over, and solid bipartisan support for, the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund. Chairman Forbes and I—with the backing of our subcommittee—have been outspoken about the use of the NSBDF to address the well-known challenges ahead in funding both the ORP and the rest of the shipbuilding plan. As we heard from experts from the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office in December, the fund, and the expanded authorities that Congress has provided in it, could generate savings on the order of tens of billions of dollars and reduce pressure on the shipbuilding account. That not only means savings for the ORP, but also represents resources that can be reapplied to build the other ships, submarines, amphibs and carriers that we know we will need in the coming decades.
To that end, our mark continued the strong and bipartisan support for the NSBDF by shifting funding requested for detailed design of the ORP from the shipbuilding account into the fund. The bill also adds to the range of authorities provides through the NSBDF by allowing for “continuous production” of components that we know we will need, like missile tubes, in the most cost-effective and optimal manner. Notably, an interim report we just received from the Navy this week found that continuous production would save 25 percent of the cost of procuring missile tubes alone by buying them in a cost efficient and level loaded approach.
Shifting gears, one area of intense interest in Connecticut, and states across the country, is the modernization of our C-130H cargo aircraft fleet. The “Flying Yankees” of the 103rd Airlift Wing is in the final stages of transitioning to their C-130H mission, ending years of uncertainty caused by the 2005 BRAC. One concern, however, was the need to modernize their eight aircraft, and the full Air National Guard fleet, to ensure that the aircraft remain capable of meeting the missions assigned to them.
To address this challenge, I was proud to work with many of our colleagues on the committee to provide the Air Force with the authority to move forward on its two-phase modernization plan for these aging but effective airlifters – AMP increment one, to provide near term avionics upgrades needed to meet the looming domestic and international airspace restrictions to begin in 2020, and increment two focused on longer term upgrades to other systems to ensure the longevity of the aircraft well in to the future.
We heard testimony this year from the Air Force that with that authority and the funding provided, they have been able to greatly accelerate programming for the upgrades. Namely, that all aircraft in the C-130H fleet will be airspace compliant by 2020, and that the further increment two upgrades will be complete by 2028. This is tremendous progress, and an achievement we should be proud of in this subcommittee. Our mark supports the budget to keep this plan on track, invests in additional propulsion and propeller upgrades to further enhance the fleet, and makes clear our intention to work closely with the Air Force to ensure the success of the modernization plan.
Our mark also brings much needed attention to the growing concern over the pipeline of qualified mariners that our nation will need in the future. According to testimony by the Maritime Administration provided to us last month, without replacement of the aging training ships assigned to the State Maritime Academies located across the country, our nation will be unable to meet the demand for qualified mariners we expect in decades ahead. In fact, according to MARAD, loss of just the oldest ship in the fleet – the 55 year old TS EMPIRE STATE attached to SUNY Maritime College – without replacement would cause a loss of 36 percent of the existing training ship capacity needed for mariner education, portrayed as “a major setback to meet the rising national demand for mariners” by the agency in its 2017 budget request to Congress.
This is both a concern for our nation’s economy and our security, and I was disappointed that the budget submitted to us this year did not take action to move forward on a replacement ship. To this end, the mark provides authority for the Maritime Administration to start work on a new National Security Multi-Mission Vessel to serve as a platform for replacing the aging fleet of training ships assigned to state maritime academies. Additionally, the ships would be used for disaster response and other priority and emergency response operations.
Finally, last year Congress made meaningful and bipartisan progress in limiting the impact of sequestration and the Budget Control Act. Even since passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act last fall setting budget levels for 2016 and 2017, several world events have further demonstrated just how important it is for all of us on this committee and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress, to come together to make the compromises needed to protect our security and support the needs of our nation.
As nearly every military official has testified before our committee this year, the lack of action on a long term budget compromise will greatly impact our ability to build the ships, aircraft and capabilities we know we will urgently need in the coming decades. This is an issue that we cannot solve in this committee alone, but I hope that we can continue to make the bipartisan case for action with our colleagues in the House as we move forward.
Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He is ranking member of the Seapower & Projection Forces subcommittee and he also serves on the Readiness subcommittee.
Image: U.S. Navy via Flickr