Dan Parsons, Defense Daily
2 February 2016
The fiscal year 2017 budget, the last for the outgoing Obama administration, is still a week from officially going public, but Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) is predicting the spending plan will reflect a shift in strategic thinking toward a larger Navy, to include support for a special fund for future submarines.
Forbes, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, told reporters Tuesday that both Pentagon officials and lawmakers have undergone an "intellectual shift" toward increasing the Navy's ship count.
As an example of the shift away from cutting ships and toward "rebuilding" the fleet, Forbes offered the "overwhelming" bipartisan support for the National Seabased Deterrence Fund created as a depository for investments in the Ohio-class replacement. Bipartisan support for the fund was representative of a "momentum shift" toward recognition that the Navy needs to be larger, Forbes said.
The fund was created in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act to separate advanced funding for 12 Ohio-class replacement nuclear ballistic missile submarines from the Navy's base budget. It was preserved in the current fiscal year and has enjoyed wide-ranging support on Capitol Hill primarily because it is designed to shave per-sub costs by allowing bulk purchase of long-lead time materials.
"We know we are going to buy 12 of those boats," he said of the Ohio-class replacement submarines. "Do we want to pay for 12 or would we like to buy 12 and only have to pay for 11? That's what the seabased deterrent fund actually does."
Some lawmakers are concerned that setting aside funding for advanced materials purchases might be a waste if the Navy ends up buying fewer submarines than currently intended. Forbes said there is no doubt the Navy will end up with 12 Ohio-class replacement nuclear submarines.
"This thing is going to save a lot of money. They've talked 10 to 15 percent. So essentially, here is our question: We know, we know, we know we're going to build 12 of these boats, so that gives a certainty that takes away any of that risk," he said. "This program simply lines up because of the clarity of exactly what we know we need, we know we're going to build them."
Support for the fund is part of a larger, broader paradigm shift in thinking both on the Hill and in the Pentagon toward funding necessary national defense instead of designing a national security strategy within available funding, Forbes said.
In 2008, none of the presidential candidates were focused on defense spending as a priority, he said. Then in 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney championed the cause of increasing the Navy's fleet size by parroting the technically correct claim that the surface fleet was smaller than it was before World War I.