WASHINGTON — To rebuild American sea power and face a growing Chinese threat, the U.S. Navy must get a larger share of the Defense Department’s budget, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee said Monday at the annual Surface Navy Association meeting.
Reps. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., and Rob Wittman, R-Va., respectively the chair and ranking member of the subcommittee, said during a virtual panel discussion that they sense a growing consensus that positioning the Navy to take on the challenge from a growing Chinese fleet would require more money in the service’s budget.
“I think more and more people are understanding the critical nature of the Navy in this fight and critical nature of all different components, whether it’s tankers or securing tankers, or cable ships and making sure that we’re doing everything up there as well as a modernized logistics fleet, and then having the ability to make sure that we are protecting the logistics fleets,” Wittman said.
“In the years going forward, any threat that we face, we’re going to face them in a highly contested environment. And that needs to inform everything that we do. And the good news is, I think, leaders, both in elected office and Pentagon, are realizing how incredibly important the Navy is as a component of that and that you can’t get to where you need to be if you just continue to cut the pie one-third, one-third, one-third. The investment has to be there,” he added.
In most years, the three major departments under the Pentagon divide up a pot of money by roughly a third each, though it has varied depending on the department’s focus. During the height of the war in Iraq, the Navy became a bill payer for a rapid increase in the size of the Army.
Courtney also expressed confidence that the military seems to be aligning behind the idea that the Navy will need a larger slice of “the Pentagon’s pie chart,” citing a speech by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley delivered at the USNI Defense Forum in December, where he called for people to “start recognizing the Navy’s share of resources has to grow,” Courtney said.
Even as the the Navy has been beat up by lawmakers over its last 20 years of high-profile acquisition struggles, there has been momentum behind providing resources to grow the Navy to meet a Chinese fleet that will number more than 400 ships by the early 2030s, according to naval intelligence estimates.
The calls for more Navy resources echoed a theme broached by the service’s top officer, Adm. Michael Gilday, at last year’s Surface Navy Association conference, where he called for the service to get a larger slice of the Pentagon budget. In those remarks, Gilday argued that the outsized impact of the Columbia-class submarine, which will cost $7.5 billion per hull, means that in order to both maintain the Navy’s leg of the nuclear triad and field enough ships to face down China, it comes down to money.
“Here’s the deal: We need more money,” he said. “We need more top line. If you believe that we require overmatch in the maritime domain, if you believe that in order to execute distributed maritime operations and to operate forward in numbers now that we need more iron, then, yes, we need more top line.”
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.