I want to join Senator McCain in welcoming Secretary Stackley, Admiral Richardson, and General Neller to the Committee this morning to testify on the plans and programs of the Department of the Navy in our review of the fiscal year 2018 authorization request. We are grateful to each of you for your service, for the service of the men and women under your command, and for the commitment of their families. I especially want to thank Secretary Stackley for his many years of service to the country, both in the Navy and in this committee, since this may be his last hearing before the Committee. Thank you very much for a job well done.
Our witnesses face significant challenges as they strive to balance the need to support ongoing operations and sustain readiness with the need to modernize and keep the technological edge so critical to military success.
The Department of the Navy faces serious readiness problems, caused by deferred maintenance, reduced steaming and flying hours, and cancelled training and deployments. The continued emphasis on readiness in this year’s budget will address some of the Navy’s most serious readiness problems, and I am interested in hearing the witnesses’ views on this matter. I am also interested in understanding what, if anything, the Navy is doing to accelerate overhaul of the USS Boise, an attack submarine that is prevented from operating because her diving certifications have expired – a blatant example of the readiness challenges you face. The current plan would fail to get this boat recertified until sometime on 2019.
All areas of our naval forces are maintaining an extremely high operations tempo. This high level operations tempo contributed in part to the conclusion in the Chief of Naval Operations new Force Structure Assessment calling for increases in the goal for the Navy fleet from 308 ships to a level of 355 ships.
Demand is overwhelming for attack submarines, air and missile defense cruisers, destroyers and strike fighter inventories. In addition, the Navy in now in its fifth year of operating with fewer than the required 11 aircraft carriers. And during the next decade, as a first priority, the Navy will need to buy a new class of strategic missile submarines to replace the Ohio-class submarines. I am interested in hearing how the Navy is managing current demands on its assets and how it plans to manage future modernization demands – particularly how it is using the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund as we began procurement funding of the Ohio replacement - the now Columbia-class program - this year.
Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller has stated that the “recapitalization of our force is essential to our future readiness with investments in ground combat vehicles, aviation, command and control, and digitally interoperable protected networks.” The Marine Corps continues to make modernization of ground vehicles a priority by developing the Amphibious Combat Vehicle to replace the aging inventory of Amphibious Assault Vehicles as well as partnering with the Army to develop the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). I would welcome an update from our witnesses on the status of these programs and if they believe there will be significant delays in fielding due to delays in the acquisition program.
The Department of the Navy budget has its usual number of significant programs, some of which have issues with their execution. Last year, I raised the issue of the Navy submitting a budget that would leave the Navy in default on the multiyear V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft contract – a problem that was solved for you when the FY 17 DOD Appropriations Act provided three additional aircraft. This year, the Navy is asking for approval of a 7-year multiyear contract for the same V-22 program. I would like to hear why we should depart from the normal 5-year multiyear contract regimen as established in title 10 of the United States Code, and why we should count on the Department of the Navy to pay more attention to living up to the terms of multiyear contracts than was the case last year.
The Defense Department’s defense strategic guidance, issued in January 2012, followed by the 2014 QDR, announced a renewed strategy for U.S. military orientation in the Asia-Pacific. Consistent with that strategy, the Defense Department has been working to realign U.S. military forces in South Korea and Okinawa, and plans to position Navy and Marine Corps forces in Australia, Singapore, and possibly elsewhere in the region. I am interested in hearing how the Navy is implanting these strategic decisions.
In this request, the Administration is asking for an increase in the Department of Defense topline of roughly $54 billion above the total budget for fiscal year 2018 prescribed in the Budget Control Act (BCA). Of that total, the Navy budget would constitute an increase of roughly $12 billion. However, I must point out that unless Congress can achieve a broad and bipartisan agreement to repeal or modify the BCA, any approval of the $12 billion increase for the Department of the Navy will trigger sequestration of a similar amount.
The President’s budget addresses the issue by making cuts of roughly $54 billion in non-defense discretionary as a way of balancing the increases for defense, which, from my perspective, is an untenable position. We must find another way.
I again thank the witnesses and I look forward to their testimony.