WASHINGTON — The US Navy's fiscal 2016 budget submissions in general enjoy support on Capitol Hill, but questions remain about several programs and certain strategic direction aspects.
With its markup released Wednesday morning, the House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee provided several answers about how the debate could go, showing strong backing across the board for shipbuilding and war-fighting programs.
Key among the issues was the provision of the full Navy request for littoral combat ships and a continued insistence to maintain and improve the fleet's surface combatant capabilities.
The subcommittee approved the request for three LCS hulls, along with two destroyers and two attack submarines. The mark also would authorize money to complete LPD 28, the 12th San Antonio-class amphibious ship. Advanced funding is authorized for a third afloat forward staging base (AFSB) and the next-generation LX(R) amphibious ship.
As expected, the mark supported the nuclear refueling overhaul of the aircraft carrier George Washington, supported construction of the carriers John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) and Enterprise (CVN 80), and provided batch or incremental funding authority for CVN 81 and five more carrier refueling overhauls.
To begin funding the National Sea-Based Deterrent Fund — an account set up to provide a funding stream for the Ohio-class Replacement Program (ORP) — the subcommittee authorizes transferring $1.39 billion from research and development accounts. The fund is intended to pay for the ORP ballistic missile submarine program outside normal Navy shipbuilding accounts.
The subcommittee also expressed its support to install Virginia payload modules (VPMs) across the Block V Virginia-class submarine buy. The VPM is an additional 85-foot-long hull section containing four large Virginia payload tubes that greatly enhance the number of weapons and systems each submarine can carry.
The subcommittee continues to strongly resist Navy efforts to reduce or delay combat system modernization in cruisers and destroyers. Full funding for Aegis destroyer modernization is provided for 2016 despite the Navy's removal of five destroyer modernizations from the future years defense plan. The mark also "prohibits removing the missile defense capabilities of the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, as well as prohibiting their retirement, inactivation, or storage," according to the subcommittee's press release. Lawmakers also limited the term of cruiser overhauls to two years "to prevent unnecessary layup of these critical assets at a time of growing demand for missile defense capabilities."
The markup repeated the subcommittee's strong support for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program to develop an aircraft "capable of deep penetrating strike in contested environments." The Navy and the Pentagon are reviewing requirements for the unmanned carrier jet program, particularly regarding an emphasis on strike or reconnaissance capabilities.
In its projection forces role, the subcommittee again expressed support for the Air Force's long-range bomber requirement. The mark also increased the Navy's Tactical Tomahawk cruise missile request from 100 to 198 missiles, "the minimum rate required to sustain the production line" at Raytheon.
The mark directs the Navy to conduct an independent assessment of the Combat Logistic Fleet's future demands, and noted the administration's "inadequate response to the requirement for a robust Coast Guard icebreaking capacity."
In remarks released with the markup, subcommittee Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., declared that "this year's Seapower and Projection Forces mark provides the resources our Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force need to meet 21st century challenges, while sustaining a robust defense industrial base and our dominance on, above, and below the sea.
"From unmanned carrier aviation, to critical Air Force strike and airlift programs, to investment in Marine Corps amphibious programs, to the next-generation undersea nuclear deterrent, this year's mark will help sustain America's power projection capabilities in the years ahead."
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., the new ranking member of the subcommittee, also issued a statement. Courtney is well-known for his support of submarine programs -- prime submarine builder General Dynamics Electric Boat is in his district - and he continued his focus on undersea warfare.
"The proposal that we will consider tomorrow makes many positive contributions to the needs of our Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Maritime Administration," Courtney said in the statement.
"I am particularly proud to have worked with Chairman Forbes on a number of provisions related to the future of our undersea fleet—an area we have worked closely together on for several years. In addition to fully supporting the ongoing two-a-year construction rate for our Virginia Class Submarines, the mark notes our bipartisan concern about the current plan to outfit only two-thirds of the Block V submarines with the Virginia Payload Module. As Navy officials have routinely testified before committee members, the VPM is the only solution available to retain the undersea strike capabilities lost when the SSGNs retire in the next decade."