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Forbes: Congress Must Fund Ohio Replacement Program, Increase Fleet Size

The chair of the House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee said Congress will find a way to fund the Navy’s next-generation nuclear-armed submarine fleet and look to move toward significantly larger fleet numbers compared to the current Navy goal of 306 ships.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia, is hoping that a strategic review of Navy needs and combatant commander requests in light of today’s global threat environment will lead the Navy to further recognize its need for a larger fleet.

“In 2007 we were able to meet about 90-percent of their validated requests. This year we will meet something in the 42-perecentile range. That is a frightening difference. If you then look back at how many ships you would need to be able to meet the validated requests – the testimony we’ve had is you would need something close to 400 ships,” Forbes said.

While pointing out that reaching 400 ships for the Navy may not be realistic, he did refer to previous congressional assessments of the issue which called for 346 Navy ships.

In 2010, an independent panel of experts examined the 2009 Quadrennial Defense Review and told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, given the range of anticipated threats, a 346-ship Navy was their recommendation.

While emphasizing that a detailed strategic review of the Navy’s needs in light of the global threat environment should precede any new decision on fleet size, Forbes was clear to emphasize that the current number of ships is simply not enough.

“The one thing republicans and democrats agree on there is we need something closer to 346 ships,” Forbes explained.

Citing mission needs, budget constraints and a 2012 force structure assessment, Navy officials say a goal of 306 ships is appropriate, realistic and achievable.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s 2015 30-year shipbuilding plan says the service is in danger of not realizing its anticipated vision for a fleet size of more than 300 ships and submarines because there simply is not enough money available to meet stated requirements.

The planned pace of retirement for many of the Navy’s surface ships built between 1980 and 1990 and the funding needed to secure production in 2021 for the first next-generation ballistic missile submarine, the Ohio Replacement program, are placing extensive strain on available resources, according to the plan.

Navy acquisition executive Sean Stackley told Congress earlier this year that the shipbuilding plan seeks to correctly identify this problem.

“In order to meet our 306 ship requirements, the funding that's needed greatly exceeds what we have had for the past 20 years. We're identifying this problem years in advance so that we collectively have the opportunity to work on it. The 306 ship plan is under great budget stress," Stackley said.

The plan, called the “Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for FY2015,” breaks required funding for future ships into three ten-year blocks and specifies that the Navy will need $19.7 billion per year for shipbuilding from 2025 through 2034 due to the expected production of the Ohio Replacement Program, or ORP.

Forbes told he would like to see a special defense budget line item created for the Ohio Replacement Program so that the strategically vital effort was not formally part of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.

“We’ve started with a special fund and that is the first step, I think. One of the big things is we have to get that out of being a line-item in the shipbuilding budget and make it a defense line item overall because that is a national strategic concern that we are going to just have to meet. I don’t think we can allow the Ohio Replacement to be part of the overall shipbuilding budget or else we will never meet the goals that we need to meet for the next decade or so,” Forbes said.

Forbes has also talked often of a $4 billion annual shipbuilding budget shortfall, meaning the amount of money needed to accommodate the Navy’s plan is well short of the dollars actually spend on shipbuilding. This is something Forbes would like to see addressed in future budget determinations.

The Navy says the service will need to spend an average of $17.2 billion per year, in 2014 dollars, to accomplish their needed shipbuilding goals, according to written statements from the service. This will need to increase to $19.7 billion per year by 2025 to help produce the Ohio Replacement Program, Navy statements have indicated.

Navy officials said the service currently has 288 ships in service, however there is a slight difference of opinion among some regarding ship counting methodologies.

Navy officials emphasize that the service hopes to reach its 306-ship goal within the next 10 years.

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