WASHINGTON ― A House panel on Wednesday advanced a proposal to authorize the Navy to make a block buy of amphibious ships for one more year, meant to save taxpayer dollars, proponents say.
The House Armed Services Committee’s sea power subpanel voted to adopt the plans, part of an amendment from its top Republican, Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia. As expected, lawmakers also advanced the broader sea power mark for the sweeping fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
If passed into law, Wittman’s language would extend authorities from the FY21 NDAA related to a bundled contract for the amphibious assault ship LHA-9 and amphibious transport docks 31, 32 and 33.
“This is all about the amphibious ship bundle, to make sure that [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] continues the effort to purchase these ships,” Wittman said. “We know there’s been a delay by [the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office], but I believe it’s incredibly important for this nation to make sure that we exercise the savings, which would be nearly a billion dollars, in buying four ships under this authorization to purchase amphibious ships in this bundle.”
The action follows Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker’s efforts to pressure the Pentagon into following through with a congressionally mandated rule to buy four amphibious ships in a single “block buy.” Politico reported last month that Wicker, whose state is home to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, which builds Navy destroyers and amphibious ships, has slowed CAPE nominee Susanna Blume in an attempt to push the Navy in that direction.
The sea power markup also included language to recommend a second Arleigh Burke-class destroyer widely sought by lawmakers, and it cuts one of two towing, salvage and rescue ships. Without the second destroyer, the Navy cannot meet its obligation under multiyear contracts with both Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works.
“The Arleigh Burke class of destroyers have proven to be one of our most capable and flexible surface combatants,” said Connecticut Democrat Rep. Joe Courtney, the subpanel chairman. “While I am frustrated that this is the second year that Congress has had to act to restore a major unfunded priority that was unexpectedly removed from the budget, doing so is the right decision for our fleet and for the industrial base.”
Meanwhile, the Air Force had hoped to draw down its number of C-130 aircraft from 300 to 255 in FY22. But the sea power markup mandates a fleet of no less than 287 C-130H aircraft ― just after Senate lawmakers advanced their bill, with a floor of 292 C-130s.
At the markup, Wittman lauded the bill Courtney offered but signaled he would push to add ships when HASC debates the forthcoming chairman’s markup. Wittman argued that deterring future conflict with China requires adopting the Trump administration’s goal of rapidly expanding naval shipbuilding.
“This would include additional ship construction and weapons procurement that is not currently recommended for inclusion in the Chairman’s mark,” Wittman said. “This should also include retention of certain legacy assets that would deter conflict in the short- and mid-term.”
Wittman called the Biden administration’s recently released 30-year shipbuilding plan ― which dropped a previous emphasis on a 355-ship goal ― as “inadequate” and its eight-ship request for FY22 “anemic.” It proposed a plan for building eight ships in FY22, where the Trump administration proposed 12.
“I continue to be perplexed as to our nation’s approach to deterring maritime conflict,” Wittman said.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.