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GOP Worries New Navy Shipbuilding Plan Cuts Fleet While We ‘Pivot’ To Asia

Posted by Colin Clark on

CAPITOL HILL: Republicans think the Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan marks a fundamental mistake: cutting the size of the fleet from 313 to 300 or so when we are increasing our focus on the Asia-Pacific

And you can be sure they will let the Navy’s top acquisition officials know that at tomorrow morning’s House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee hearing about the Navy budget.

“It largely confirms our concerns that we’re cutting shipbuilding while ‘pivoting’ to Asia. The Navy is going from a fleet of roughly 313 to a fleet of roughly 300, a GOP congressional aide said in an email. “It also confirms our concerns about amphib numbers that are low in the near term. Dropping the SSBN fleet to 10 in the 30’s is a real big question. And we continue to be short on the DDG and SSN categories. Bottom line, we’re shrinking the Navy, cutting shipbuilding money by 20% and somehow pivoting to Asia.”

But one of the nation’s most respected naval analysts says the new shipbuilding plan, which does see the number of ships dip to 279 in 2014 from the earlier planned fleet of 287, offered a much less glum assessment.

“This 30-year plan mitigates the projected shortfalls in cruisers-destroyers and attack submarines that showed in last year’s 30-year plan, in part by putting additional destroyers and attack submarines into the plan,” said Ron O’Rourke, naval analyst at the Congressional Research Service. “As a result, analysis of the 30-year plan this year may feature somewhat less (but still some) emphasis on the projected shortfalls, and somewhat more emphasis on the Navy’s prospective ability to afford all the ships in the plan.”

Loren Thompson, one of the more respected defense analysts and a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, was fairly neutral in his assessment of the new plan, except when it comes to two crucial weapon systems: the replacement for the Ohio class nuclear missile submarines and delays to the Virginia-class submarines.
“Deferral of a planned Virginia-class sub from 2014 to outside the five-year plan will raise the cost a subs and reduce efficiency in yards while increasing the danger of a shortfall in attack sub capabilities circa 2030. In addition, delay in development of a replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine is not consistent with past Navy plans or pronouncements about preserving an adequate sea-based deterrent force,” Thompson said. “Delaying the Ohio replacement will diminish the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent two decades from now, which introduces unnecessary risk into the ship construction program because global military conditions 20 years hence are not knowable today.”

Republicans and senators from states with submarine bases and shipbuilding yards have highlighted their concerns about the delay in building the first Ohio-class replacement. It will almost certainly come up again at the Thursday morning HASC hearing.

What do you think?