4 April 2017
WASHINGTON — Navy officials may have as little as a decade before their Ohio-class submarine fleet won’t dive beneath the waves anymore, the head of U.S. Strategic Command warned lawmakers on Tuesday.
“Each submarine is built to go down, under pressure, a certain number of times. Once you reach the end of life, you can't go down any more,” said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, STRATCOM commander, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And a submarine on the top of the water is not an effective deterrent.”
The comments came as Hyten detailed the need for stable and sufficient funding for nuclear modernization efforts, including the military’s submarines. Navy officials have already begun a $100 billion-plus plan to replace the aging Ohio-class submarines with the Columbia-class in coming years, but the STRATCOM commander warned that recent budget fights could jeopardize that progress.
“Every year [of] that program, if it slips one year then the future commander of STRATCOM is down one nuclear submarine,” he said. “Two years, two nuclear submarines.
“We know that because there's a certain time in the future where Ohio-class submarine just will not go under the water anymore, just the pressure on the vessel itself will not allow it to go down. (The Columbia-class program) has to stay on time.”
Hyten would not detail exactly when military officials predict the older subs will become obsolete, but said the problem will start “towards the end of the next decade.”
Lawmakers at the hearing called that alarming. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., called it “a very precipitous risk” for the country if a replacement isn’t prioritized.
Hyten’s comments were the most recent of a series of dire predictions from military officials about looming defense budget issues, as lawmakers try and find a solution for federal spending for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Most federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, have been operating off fiscal 2016 spending levels since last fall as Congress tries to work out a long-term spending plan for the government. If a solution is not found before the end of April, the country will face another partial government shutdown.
In recent days, lawmakers have discussed the possibility of another continuing resolution to push the funding fight to October, but military leaders have warned that plan will leave them short on a number of multiyear procurement and planning priorities, including the Columbia-class subs
Last week, Marine Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, said he would be forced cut all flying hours for several F/A-18 Super Hornet and Harrier squadrons under a continuing resolution. Service officials are expected to outline other possible training and personnel cuts at a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday.
Hyten said the continued budget confusion is taking a toll on his service members.
“They are dealing with very old equipment,” he said. “We have a commitment to them, as a nation, that we need to give them the tools they need in order to do their job. Their enthusiasm can only last a certain amount of time, and if we don't follow through on that commitment, that morale will be brought into question.”
Lawmakers have been unable to reach a long-term funding deal balancing military and non-defense funding since 2011, when they passed 10 years of budget caps designed to reign in the federal budget.