Lawmakers Blast 'Inadequate' Shipbuilding Budget, 30-Year Plan

Roger Wicker, Rob Wittman
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., left, and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., right, depart together after speaking about legislation to increase Naval fleet on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) -- The Associated Press

The Navy this week released a new document showing its plan to get from its current fleet of 280 to 355 ships by sometime in the 2050s, and to 342 three decades from now.

But at an annual meeting of the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition, a number of lawmakers criticized the plan, and the fiscal 2019 budget proposal that accompanied it, as inadequate to meet the requirements of a Navy that needs more grey hulls today to meet global requirements.

Rep. Rob Wittman, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee under House Armed Services, said the plan "falls well short" of what the service needs, adding that 355 ships within the 30-year time period should be considered a floor for Navy end strength.

On amphibious ships in particular, Wittman took issue with a "dip" in production in the plan that takes place between fiscal 2035 and 2043. The Navy is set to buy only four amphibious ships inside that span, compared with 11 in the preceding nine years.

"We get back up, but we can't be taking those dips on industrial base issues," Wittman said. "We must have 38 amphibious ships. That's the requirement; let's stand by the requirement."

He also said there should have been funding for amphibious ships in the president's fiscal 2019 budget request, whether to invest in the new LX(R) class of amphibious ship, or reduce the space between purchases of LHA(R) amphibious assault ships from the current pace of one every seven years.

Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican whose district includes Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, agreed.

The Navy, he said, needs to accelerate the procurement of the 9th America-class LHA.

"Ingalls Shipbuilding launched [LHA-7] Tripoli three months ahead of schedule," Wicker said. "[LHA-8] Bougainville is ready to start fabrication. And yet the Navy is planning for a seven-year production slowdown between LHA-8 and LHA-9? This makes no sense, and the decision should be reconsidered."

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin and a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, said getting the Navy to 355 ships is a matter of law, thanks to the Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas (SHIPS) Act, championed by Wicker and Wittman. It was signed into law as part of the Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

"A 30-year shipbuilding plan that ignores that law and does not get us to 355 in as practical and as timely a manner as possible is quite frankly inadequate," he said.

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, did sound a note of caution, saying at the event that building high volumes of ships without adequate survivability, command-and-control functions, and warfighting capacity would not meet the nation's needs.

"I think I would trade numbers of ships for capability, if that was the trade," he said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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