ARLINGTON, Va. — Exasperation is growing over the U.S Navy’s inability to get missiles and weapons delivered fast enough to keep its own magazines full, let alone offer more assistance to Ukraine or other partners in need, several leaders said at this week’s annual Surface Navy Association conference.
“I’m not as forgiving of the defense industrial base,” Adm. Daryl Caudle, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said Jan. 11. “I am not forgiving the fact that they’re not delivering the ordnance we need, I’m just not.”
“All this stuff about COVID this, parts, supply chain this, I just don’t really care,” he continued. “I need [Standard Missile]-6s delivered on time. I need more [torpedoes] delivered on time.”
Caudle oversees the readiness-generation of all ships, submarines and aircraft on the Atlantic side of the Navy. He said the service is working internally to boost its readiness, including announcing this week the surface fleet would aim to have at least 75 mission-capable ships at all times to send on missions with little notice — but this progress is being hampered by backlogs in industry.
The Navy is buying two submarines a year, but industry is only delivering at a rate of 1.2 a year.
“In five years, instead of delivering 10 fast attack submarines, I got six. Where’s the other four? My force is already four submarines short,” Caudle said. Ships coming out of maintenance availabilities late, both at Navy public yards and private industry yards, worsens the problem. While the Navy should have 10 of its 50 subs in deep maintenance, 19 are in or awaiting repairs.
“Imagine if I was on time, my submarine force would be nine ships larger. That is a significant number,” he said.
Caudle noted that if the Navy had ready its 75 mission-capable ships, “their magazines wouldn’t all be full.”
He said the Navy knows which missiles would make the most impact during a fight, and the Navy wants to see defense contractors prioritize these top programs, even at the expense of other production lines if needed.
“We are spending large amounts of money with these companies. … When they don’t deliver, that impacts the national security that we provide this country,” the four-star said. “If there’s areas that we need to do better … where they can go build more stable workforces, go buy more early materials, go get more certainty and buy down their risk because we’re more committed to larger buys of ordnance or ships or whatever it is, we’ve got to have those conversations.”
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told Defense News on Jan. 10 at the conference he prioritized readiness — including ordnance — in the fiscal 2023 spending request and would do so again in the FY24 plan expected out this spring.
“The message that I’m trying to send there is, not only am I trying to fill magazines with weapons, but I’m trying to put U.S. production lines at their maximum level right now and to try and maintain that set of headlights in subsequent budgets, so that we continue to produce those weapons. That’s one thing we’ve seen in Ukraine, that the expenditure of those high-end weapons in conflict could be higher than we estimated,” Gilday said.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro weighed in as well, telling reporters Jan. 11 the Navy and Pentagon are offering a combination of carrots and sticks to weapons-builders.
For example, he said, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and her office are seeking to incentivize companies building weapons needed by the U.S. but also potentially helpful in Ukraine to increase their maximum production rates.
“They had a set production rate before Ukraine occurred; now the U.S. government is asking them to increase their production rates,” he said. “There’s a desire on the part of those companies to do that in a responsible fashion.”
Del Toro too said the pandemic and supply chain challenges are no longer acceptable excuses for mission delivery dates.
“If they’re having a problem set on their side, I don’t want to just hear about it at the final hour,” he said. “I want to hear about it as these problems develop, and if we’re the cause of some of these problems, then fine, let’s talk about them and let’s try to fix them early on so we can deliver that on time.”
Del Toro said the solution can’t simply be “us throwing money at industry.”
“The money that we do make available for workforce development has to be carefully laid out,” he continued. “We pay attention to how the money is actually being spent to ensure that it’s being spent effectively, efficiently, there are metrics and data that actually support, hopefully, the results that get returned on that investment.”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.