With the Congressional budget season swinging fully into gear, one key lawmaker is zeroing in on a shift from providing a land-oriented defense posture to one relying more on seapower.
“We’re tying to change the debate on how to do this,” Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “We believe the last 10 years was a disproportionate sacrifice on the part of the Army and Marine Corps. We think that over the next two or three decades we’re going to have to have seapower and projection forces done correctly.”
Forbes is the new chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee — in years past one of the most influential naval bodies on Capitol Hill.
“We need to be constantly looking at the assumptions we’ve made and if they’re right and if we have the right balance,” Forbes said.
“We want to make sure we’ve got the analysis right, that it’s not just driven by the budget. We want to make sure that’s not really happening.”
In Tuesday’s Navy posture budget hearing before the full committee, Forbes pointed out shortcomings in the ability of naval carrier aircraft to strike the Chinese mainland without putting the carriers at extreme risk.
“When you look at the lethality of some weapons around the world, I think the next decade will be a huge one,” he said Wednesday. “It’s important for us to ask if our assumptions that our carriers can always be moving at will in close quarters are true, and if not, do we need to make an analysis of that.”
Forbes referred to a chart showing the range of carrier aircraft — about 400 nautical miles for F/A-18 Super Hornets and about 590 nautical miles for F-35Cs — with 810-plus nautical mile reach of the Chinese DF-21 ballistic missile, developed to defeat American flattops.
“When our carriers are pushed further and further back it gets more difficult for our strike aircraft to do what they’re designed to do,” Forbes noted.
“So, do we have the right mix? Do we need to add anything in terms of range?”
It’s not just a Navy proposition, he noted.
“You need a layered approach, and obviously the Air Force comes into play there. And we have to look at our basing arrangements down the road of where they would be launching from.”
Future options to operate U.S. aircraft in foreign countries could be more limited, Forbes noted, nodding to political sensibilities.
“More and more of these countries are finding it more difficult to say one thing and do another,” he observed.
With a hearing scheduled April 24 on Navy and Air Force acquisition programs, Forbes is seeking a key piece of the future planning process: the 30-year shipbuilding and aviation plans. The plans were not sent to Congress April 10 along with the rest of the 2014 budget submission.
“They’re supposed to accompany the budget, there’s supposed to be a certification that the budget conforms with those two plans,” Forbes noted.
While the aviation plan seems some weeks, even months, from being completed, the shipbuilding plan is nearly ready.
“The plan is done, we just don’t have it yet. We’re pushing to get it before this hearing,” Forbes said. “It sets a much better foundation for us.”
Reached at the Pentagon, a Navy official acknowledged the shipbuilding plan is still being worked on.
“We are continuing to work through the details of the 30 year shipbuilding plan,” the official said Wednesday. “While the plan has not yet been submitted to Congress, we expect it will be released in the near future.”