Monday, February 23, 2015

Defense policy committee staff members to Congress: SSBN(X) is a priority

Lee Hudson, Inside the Navy, Feb. 20

Republican professional staff members on the House and Senate defense authorization committees say that structuring funding for the Navy's Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine will be a "hard choice."
Robert Soofer, Senate Armed Services Committee professional staff member for the majority, said Feb. 19 during an event in Washington that he does not "begrudge" the Navy for trying to find sources of funding outside the shipbuilding budget to pay for the Ohio-class replacement sub.
"They need to get the funds to get the job done," Soofer added.
Drew Walter, House Armed Services Committee professional staff member for the majority, said Feb. 19 during the same event that the fiscal year 2016 defense budget request reflects that the Obama administration is backing its policy of nuclear deterrence being the nation's highest defense priority.
The FY-15 National Defense Authorization Act included language creating a national sea-based deterrence fund that will help pay for the next-generation ballistic submarine fleet.
"We'll see how this plays out. There is some precedent for providing the Navy topline relief," Walter said.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), who chairs the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, told Inside the Navy Feb. 5 that he views the national sea-based deterrence fund as a Christmas savings account.
"You need to set up the account but now we need to fund it," he said.
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), the subcommittee's ranking member, told ITN Feb. 9 that funding the Ohio-class replacement sub is a challenging policy question because lawmakers have to pay for the submarine and also protect the rest of the Navy's shipbuilding priorities.
Rear Adm. William Lescher, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said Feb. 2 during a briefing at the Pentagon that the future years defense plan includes $5 billion in advanced procurement and about $5 billion in research and development funding.
"The department's strong view is when the construction costs start with the first boat in '21 and then particularly when it gets to the point of boat every year from '26 to '35, that additional topline relief is required," Lescher said.
The Navy's shipbuilding budget averages about $15 billion each year and Ohio-class replacement submarines will cost about $10 billion per year, he added.
Forbes has a "host of things planned" with lawmakers who are not on the House Armed Services Committee to make sure they are aware of how important the program is for the country's national security. He said it is also important to begin dialogue with Republican leadership to make sure they understand the effort as well.
"So there's really a balance there, it's pressurized all the time," Antonio said. "We're keeping on the shipbuilders to stay on schedule, keeping on the testing community and our own people to say we've got to get to test and get the capability out there, and then make sure we keep the fleet fully informed of how we're going to give them the ships."
The Fort Worth (LCS-3) is currently deployed to the Southeast Asia region, Antonio said. The Freedom (LCS-1) will relieve the Fort Worth, and later the Navy will deploy one of the Independence-variant ships to the area, he said.
The plan is to "slowly build up" the number of LCSs in the region, Antonio said. In the latter part of 2016, there will be two ships in those waters, then by 2017 that number increases to three, and then four in the late 2017 into early 2018 time frame, he said.
"In order to get to the four, we have to have eight ships available," Antonio explained. "So you need eight ships to get four forward-deployed. So that's the plan."
The rotational deployment to Singapore is part of the administration's pivot to the Asia Pacific as China continues to flex its muscles in the Southeast Asia region and tension bubbles on the Korean peninsula.

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