WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's joint hearing titled “355-ship Navy: Delivering the Right Capabilities.”For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"Today, we meet to discuss the 355 ship Navy and options that Congress may consider to deliver the required fleet. Appearing before us to discuss this important topic are three esteemed Navy witnesses:
Honorable James Guerts
Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research, Development & Acquisition;
Vice Admiral William R. Merz
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems; and
Vice Admiral Tom Moore
Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command
I want to thank you all for your service as well as for appearing before this subcommittee to discuss Navy’s fleet requirements and various options for Congress to pursue to meet the Navy the nation needs.
In previous hearings, I expressed my concern as to the 30 year shipbuilding plan’s inability to reach the required 355-ship Navy. Navy’s plan only reaches 342 ships by 2039. Critical shortfalls in aircraft carriers, large deck amphibs, and attack submarines will severely challenge future Navy operations.
I am particularly troubled by administration officials who equivocate as to obtaining the required 355-ship Navy. The 355-ship Navy is more than just a slogan, it is a requirement that was carefully considered by the Navy, enacted by Congress and signed into law by the Commander in Chief. We need both quality and quantity to be successful in dissuading potential aggressors.
As to this hearing, I look forward to our panel discussing options that Congress may consider to fulfill our constitutional duty 'to provide and maintain a Navy.' I think Congress has a multitude of options that could be pursued to limit navy shortfalls and change the trajectory of our Navy’s fleet. These options include expanding the Navy by building our way to meet the requirement. But I also believe that the Navy could pursue other options to improve maintenance as well as modernize and extend the fleet in service today.
As to aircraft carriers, I believe it is imperative that we rapidly obtain the required 12 aircraft carriers and pursue a two-ship block procurement that has the potential to save almost $2.5 billion. Furthermore, we need to examine options to extend the current fleet which should include a careful examination of the service life available with Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Finally, I am particularly concerned about administrative limitations associated with the Department’s intent to shock trial CVN78. I understand that such a decision will delay the introduction of the USS Ford by nine months and delays significant learning that can only occur while underway.
I am also concerned about the submarine force structure. We currently have 51 attack submarines and are on a rapid path to reduce this force structure to 42 submarines by 2028. This is in the exact opposite direction to meeting the fleet requirement of 66 submarines. Fortunately, we have several options to alleviate this reduction. I support an innovative effort by the Navy and Naval Reactors to extend the service life of five Los Angeles-class attack submarines and using existing unused reactor cores. I am also supportive of adding new construction submarines in accordance with the Virginia-class multiyear procurement authorized in the fiscal year 2018 NDAA.
With regards to our large surface combatants, this committee was instrumental in reversing a prior Navy course to decommission half of our existing cruisers. I am glad that we have been able to turn the tide on this budget proposal but there is more work to do. Many of our older destroyers have not been adequately modernized. The lack of budget authority has stranded many flight one and flight two destroyers and imperil our ability to meet their required service life. While the Navy has done a good job of preparing a plan for the service life extensions of cruisers, amphibs and submarines, I think that we need to provide significant emphasis on the modernization of the older destroyer fleet.
Finally, our auxiliary fleet is in need of serious upgrades. I don’t think anyone would agree that a 42 year old surge sealift fleet is sufficient. Army indicated that they 'face unacceptable risk in force projection beginning in 2024' because of the deficient surge sealift fleet. The Navy’s recapitalization proposal does not meet Army timelines and is a classic military service 'gap' issue. We need to close this seam.
As this is our last hearing before our NDAA markup, I think it is appropriate to consider the words of our first president. In a conversation with Marquis de Lafayette at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, George Washington was attributed to saying 'without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.' Our forefathers knew the power attributed to a standing Navy. As we prepare for the testimony of this esteemed panel, I hope that we can remember the importance of our naval forces and their deterrent value, a deterrent value to war."