WASHINGTON - Today, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, made the following remarks on the hearing titled “Building the Navy of the Future: A Look at Navy Force Structure” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"I want to welcome all of our members to our hearing today. I am particularly pleased to have some of our nation’s foremost naval experts providing testimony before our Subcommittee. We have:
The Honorable John F. Lehman
Former Secretary of the Navy; and
Admiral Robert J. Natter, USN (Ret.)
Former Commander, Fleet Forces Command
Thank you all for testifying today and we look forward to your thoughts and insights on the Department of the Navy.
When John Lehman stepped down as Secretary of the Navy in 1987 we had 594 ships. When ADM Natter retired from the Navy in 2003 we had 297 ships. Today we have 272.
The size of our fleet is only one metric for Navy’s strength, but it is an important one. And while I firmly believe that the United States Navy remains the most powerful and capable maritime force in the world, I am concerned about the future, and the trend lines that we see in those three points.
We have heard from the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Richardson that we are returning to an era of “great power competition” in which our maritime superiority will be contested. We have heard that gaps in our aircraft carrier presence will continue to occur in the Middle East and the Pacific. We have heard from the Marine Corps that shortfalls in amphibious ships are driving them to consider deploying aboard foreign ships.
A few weeks ago, Admiral Harris, our commander in the Pacific, testified to Congress that the Navy can currently only fulfill 62% of his demand for submarines. We all thought that sounded pretty dire, but just last week I was informed by the Navy that across the board, the Navy will only be able to meet 42% of anticipate demand for forces in fiscal year 2017. So it turns out that Admiral Harris’ situation may actually be above average—an alarming realization, indeed.
The conclusion we should all be drawing from this data is that we need more ships, and more aircraft, and more investment in other elements and enablers of naval power.
The administration points to a ship construction program that will meet the 308 ship Navy in the next few years. However, if when one looks under the hood of this car, one sees some disturbing details. The administration continues to count ships that they intend to shrink wrap and tie to the pier. Once again, they are proposing to lay up half our cruisers and truncate the procurement of small surface combatants. Now, in fiscal year 2017, they are asking for permission to deactivate an entire carrier air wing.
These trend lines are indeed concerning and point to a clear need to provide additional investment in our Navy and in the other elements of our national defense. They are also evidence, I believe, of malaise and a lack of vision in thinking about American seapower.
While I believe that our uniformed leaders are fully capable of providing this vision and leadership, I believe this administration—and the next—must place a higher priority on national security and the strength of our Navy.
Our witnesses today have fought these battles before, and are a clear source of inspiration as we navigate these troubled waters and seek to rebuild our maritime strength. We are indebted to them for their service, and today, we once again call on their wisdom and foresight. I look forward to hearing your thoughts."