10 mars 2020 | International, Naval

Navy Needs Bigger Budget Than Other Services: Rep. Wittman

“You can have the greatest brigade combat team in the world," Rep. Wittman said, "but if they can't get to the fight because we don't have a robust ready reserve fleet, that's pretty shortsighted.”


]WASHINGTON: A prominent lawmaker waded into the inter-service money wars today by calling for the Navy receiving a larger share of the budget than the other branches of the armed forces. The Army, Rep. Rob Wittman emphasized, can't even deploy abroad without the Navy's help.

“We need to look at the one-third, one-third, one-third allocation of defense dollars to all the different service branches,” said Wittman, the top Republican on the Democratic-controlled House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. (The actual allocation is a bit trickier than that, but it's close). “No offense in any way, shape, or form to the other service branches, but we're going to need capability in certain areas and we're going to need those at a faster pace than in other areas.”

Wittman represents the shipbuilding powerhouse of Virginia — home to massive naval bases and Newport News Shipbuilding, which makes all the nation's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and half its nuclear submarines. He appeared at the Hudson Institute today alongside Rep. Joe Courtney, who chairs the subcommittee and who represents Connecticut, where the other half of the nation's nuclear subs are built at Electric Boat.

But it wasn't any of these high-tech, high-cost warships that Wittman singled out today. Instead, the congressman was referring to the major shortfalls in allocating money to modernize the nation's sealift fleet, humble but essential transports.

A recent exercise showed the sealift fleet would be unable to haul military equipment overseas quickly in the event of a national security emergency. The snap drill found that of the 33 ships activated, only 22 were ready enough to leave port, according to a December paper from US Transportation Command.

Shifting more money to the Navy would be a tough sell in Congress, with its hundreds of parochial interests, but Courtney added that his committee might take up the sealift shortage in its markup of the 2021 budget request in a few weeks, a move that could have wide-ranging implications for the Navy's budget.

Wittman didn't lay out plans for shifting money to the Navy, but said “a great example” of why sealift needs to be a priority is “you can have the greatest brigade combat team in the world, you can have the greatest Stryker brigade in the world, but if they can't get to the fight because we don't have a robust ready reserve fleet, that's pretty shortsighted.”

Splitting the budget roughly in thirds between the services “is not letting the strategy drive the budget, it's letting the budget drive the strategy,” added, which “creates a strategic vulnerability.”

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. graphic from DOD data

Wittman's comments come in the wake of a earlier dust-up between the services over their share of the budget, after Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday told a navy conference in January “we need more money,” in order to modernize. Budgeting as usual, he said, which means “a one-third, one-third, one-third cut, does not reflect the strategy,” laid in in 2019's National Defense Strategy, Gilday said. “It isn't necessarily aligned with where we need to go against the pacing threat that we face.”

The Navy is in many ways faced with the trickiest path to modernizing among all the branches of the military. Even as the service continues to struggle to get ships out of repair availabilities on time, it has also committed to building a new class of aircraft carriers, and has to overhaul its Virginia-class submarines. On top of all that comes the biggest-ticket item — a new class of nuclear-powered submarines about to begin construction, which will eat up over 30 percent of Gilday's budget in a few years.

The first of the 12 Columbia subs is scheduled to begin construction in 2021 and enter service in 2031. Once completed they'll carry a staggering 70 percent of the country's nuclear arsenal.

To clear space, and the chart a path toward a planned 355-ship fleet, the Navy is scrambling.

Last week, plans leaked of Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly's intent to stand up a Future Carrier 2030 Task Force, which will take six months to study how carriers stack up against new generations of stealthy submarines and long-range precision weapons being fielded by China and Russia. The study likely won't be ready until after Defense Secretary Mark Esper wraps up his assessment of the Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan and its new force structure assessment, however. Esper took control over both studies last month.

The Navy is also looking to speed up the acquisition of a new class of 20 frigates, which would be a relative bargain of about $900 each if the service can stick to its plans and things work out the way they envision.

In an attempt to clear some budgetary space for all of this, Modly has kicked off a new ‘Stem to Stern' review of back office functions to try and wrong more money out of existing accounts, which he's hoping to find about $8 billion a year in savings.


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