As Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, I am committed to ensuring our Navy remains the most powerful naval force anywhere in the world.
But as we move into the 21st Century, we must ensure that our Navy is prepared to meet the numerous challenges of the future. I laid out my vision for the Navy of the future and how we, in Congress, can support its development for an article in the August edition of Proceedings, the magazine of the United States Naval Institute. You can read the full article below.
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It's an honor to serve you and Virginia's First District in the People's House.
George Washington, our nation's first citizen and first president, recognized early in our history the importance of a strong Navy saying, "without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." Thankfully, our leaders at the time heeded the wise advice. Since our founding, the Navy has led us through many honorable and glorious moments, indeed securing the future of our nation.
It was the Navy that withstood the British fleet during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. It was the Navy, with its "full speed ahead" mantra, that secured the western theater of the Civil War for the Union and quickly captured Manilla Bay in the Spanish-American War. It was the Navy that fought successfully on two fronts in World War II to defeat imperialism and tyranny. And it is the Navy that today is deployed to every corner of the globe to keep our nation safe and ensure the free flow of commerce.
Over time, the threats we've faced have changed and expanded in scope. A snap shot of the current global threat environment does not paint a rosy picture. In the Pacific, North Korea's belligerent actions and China’s expansionism threaten regional stability. In the Middle East, Iran continues to assert itself both through its Revolutionary Guard naval forces and its sponsorship of terror groups like the Houthi rebels in Yemen. And Russia, through its actions in the Baltic and Black Seas, and in the undersea domain, is clearly seeking to again project itself as a major player in Europe and beyond. The urgent need to deter these threats is as real today as it was in the time of Washington.
However, the Navy of today is insufficient to address the challenges of tomorrow. We must build our Navy’s Fleet to 355 ships so that we can deter our adversaries, support our allies, and respond to threats and humanitarian challenges around the world. As chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, this will be a major priority of mine during the 115th Congress and as we begin work on the annual defense authorization.
I believe there are three areas we must focus on to achieve the goal of a 355 ship Naval Fleet and to prepare our Navy for its next critical moment in our history. They include developing a sound naval strategy and establishing the requirements of the Fleet, providing a budget that supports that strategy, and ensuring the viability of the industrial base to support shipbuilding and ship maintenance.
First, we need to develop a sound naval strategy and establish the requirements of the fleet.
To maximize the fighting capability of every ship in the fleet, we must embrace the distributed lethality concept and incorporate offensive weapons on all platforms. During the Reagan build-up, the United States Navy reached a fleet of 594 ships. Twenty years ago we had 450 ships in the U.S. inventory. Today we have 276 ships in the Fleet. However, we still have the same number of ships - 100 - deployed supporting operational demands in a complex global threat environment. This puts undue stress on sailors, equipment, and the maintenance community because we are asking them to do the same job with less.
And while a nearly 600-ship fleet is unattainable, with the proper investment and strategy we can maximize the utility of a 355-ship fleet. Our strategy driven budget should provide for a fleet that is agile, modular, and most of all, lethal.
Over the last two decades we have seen unprecedented usage of our fleet, which unfortunately resulted in unprecedented wear and tear. We flew our aircraft past their expected service life, deferred maintenance availabilities on our surface ships, and, most recently, backlogged submarine maintenance for years on end. Beyond recapitalizing our Fleet of SSBNs, SSNs, and CVNs, we need to modernize and properly repair all ships currently in the inventory. Our 355-ship fleet is dependent upon ensuring every ship reaches its expected service life.
Another component of getting the most out of our ships is the Navy’s initiative in reinvigorating all of their warfare development centers (WDC). WDCs are designed to develop new tactics, techniques, and procedures that will be integrated in each of the warfare communities. The WDCs are vital in dusting-off antiquated Navy tactics- tactics that have not been touched since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Integration of all platforms, and their respective weapons systems, is necessary to get the full value out of our assets, to include future integration of unmanned systems.
Next, we should provide a defense and Naval budget that supports the above-mentioned strategy.
The Budget Control Act (BCA) and subsequent defense sequester have severely limited our armed forces in the areas of equipment modernization, maintenance, and training. Put plainly, the goal of achieving a 355-ship Navy becomes near impossible without the repeal of the BCA. When top military leaders come before the full Armed Services Committee, or before the Seapower Subcommittee, that is the message they deliver to Members. They also remind us that while we have been forced to cut defense spending, the global security environment has become more volatile and complex. To meet the challenges we face around the world we must boost the defense budget.
While the Administration’s FY18 budget proposal does increase the base defense budget, I'm concerned that the modest increase may not provide adequate funding to restore our military’s readiness and could lead to a situation where we are letting budgets dictate our strategy. We must identify the threats and challenges we face and provide the resources necessary to meet them. And in my view, $640 billion in base funding is what we need to ensure we can deter adversaries, support allies, and protect the homeland.
As chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, I am specifically focused on ensuring enough funding is provided for shipbuilding and ship maintenance so that we can grow the Navy's fleet. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), building a 355 ship Navy over the course of several decades will cost around $800 billion. And while that may seem daunting, it actually only takes an additional investment of $5-6 billion per year over current funding levels to achieve. I believe we can do that. But it has to be a priority. The current budget proposal, in comparison to last year, actually cuts shipbuilding funding. I will be working with my colleagues to increase that account, signaling to industry that Congress is committed to growing the Navy.
Finally, we must ensure the viability of the industrial base to support shipbuilding and maintenance efforts.
From the outset of my chairmanship of the subcommittee, I made it a priority to visit almost all of the major private shipyards in the U.S. The purpose of these visits was to see first-hand the great work being done by our skilled shipbuilders. Additionally, I wanted to speak with the industry leaders about the challenges they face, needs of their workforce, and prospects for future builds. Those conversations allow me to update my Armed Services Committee colleagues on what we can expect from the yards and what support the yards need from Congress to build our Navy's ships and submarines.
All of the visits I've made thus far left me with the impression that our industrial base has the capacity to expand operations and build more ships. We need to find what I refer to as the "sweet spot" that strikes the proper balance between new shipbuilding and current ship repair. For instance, right now in the submarine industrial base, we are looking at an almost 50% increase in workload as we boost requirements from 48 attack submarines to 66. This requires that in the near future we significantly increase the submarine build rate above our current two per year submarine construction. That type of increase must be managed well, without cutting corners that may result in construction problems that cause delays in the long-term. At the same time, we must keep maintenance availabilities of our current submarines on time so that our Navy remains ready.
The Navy has been, and will continue to be, the tip of the spear in our national defense strategy. But it is critical that we modernize and grow the Fleet to ensure it can meet the many challenges and threats we face around the world. Most critically, the Navy needs more ships.