Lawmakers on Tuesday pressed U.S. Navy officials to explain what the service is doing to fix its shortage of attack submarines.
Navy officials testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on Seapower that the service is on track to achieve a 355-ship fleet by 2034.
Lawmakers, however, were concerned about the more immediate problem of the Navy's submarine shortfall.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, said that retired Adm. Harry Harris, former head of U.S. Pacific command, had testified that "only half his requirement for attack submarines in the Pacific theater was being met."
"This challenge will only grow worse in the 2020s as attack submarines retire at a faster rate," Rounds said. "How is the Navy planning to mitigate the attack submarine shortfall in the 2020s?"
James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said the most "looming shortfall ahead of us in terms of capability is in attack subs."
Geurts said the service is ramping up Virginia-class submarine production to two per year, with the potential of producing more than two down the road.
The Navy is also looking at where it can do "service-life extensions on some of our existing submarines," he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, referring to a recent Government Accountability Office report on maintenance delays in the attack sub fleet, said that since "2008, 14 attack submarines have spent a combined 61 months -- 1,891 days -- idling while waiting to enter ship yards for maintenance."
"We need action now to address the backlog that is bad for our national security and the harmful impact on our industrial base," he said. "We have been talking about this maintenance backlog for a year with no clear solution in sight."
As part of a larger, 30-year ship repair/sustainment plan the Navy plans to release this year, Geurts said he intends to make submarines a high priority.
"Going forward under the new role this committee provided me to oversee sustainment readiness, I am really focused on getting predictability and advanced planning in the readiness area for ship repair, with a particular focus on submarines," he said.
Currently, the Navy has four submarines in "maintenance availabilities" and the service plans to award at least two more "into private yards" next year, Geurts said, adding that the requests for proposal for those efforts are scheduled to go out by next summer.
"My strategic approach to this is balancing out that work and getting predictability into the maintenance plan, so that we have capacity to get those ships both in and out of those availabilities on time, to give the combatant commanders the capability they need," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.