PENTAGON: Just 11 days after sending its fiscal 2020 budget to Congress, the Navy is back with a new $3.2 billion request for more F-35s, more offensive punch, new tech, and more money to bolster submarine and surface ship depot maintenance.
The annual unfunded requirements list is an annual rite come springtime in Washington, when the service chiefs nudge Congress about all the great things they could do — if they were given a few billion more to work with. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson sent his up to Capitol Hill on Friday, in hopes of adding to the $205 billion budget request the Navy submitted earlier this month.
Like the larger budget, the supplemental ask paints a picture of a service desperately trying to move quickly to get more hulls in the water while adding long-range offensive punch, but struggling mightily to upgrade and repair existing ships.
F-35s and LASERS
The list asks for $240 million to procure two more F-35Cs, as well as $393 million to purchase two more P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes.
Significantly, there’s also a line for $80 million to buy an additional HELIOS shipboard laser system. If granted, this would be in addition to the HELIOS the service is already planning to install on a ship later this year, and is a clear signal that the Navy wants to push the program forward more quickly than had previously been signaled, even if the admirals failed to squeeze it into their official request.
The HELIOS is slated to become a mainstay aboard Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the coming years, where it will be fully integrated into the ship’s Aegis combat system.
Neither the Navy nor contractor Lockheed Martin are willing to speak in too much detail about the specifics of the laser, but HELIOS appears to emit somewhere between 60 and 150 kilowatts, making it at least twice as powerful as the 30-kW LAWS laser demonstrator deployed aboard the USS Ponce in 2014. LAWS was capable of shooting down drones and disabling small boats and blinding sensors.
“This additional system will also support establishing the industrial base for laser weapon system components” the document states.
Say it with us: Lethality!
There’s also a $259 million request for “high priority ordnance” which includes $71 million for Joint Direct Attack Munitions to be fitted to Mk 84 bombs used aboard B-52 bombers.
The Navy is also asking for $62 million to buy 38 more Naval Strike Missiles — to bring the Navy’s inventory to 64 by 2022 — to place aboard Littoral Combat Ships.
Another $25 million is sought for seven more Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM) “to achieve industry’s maximum production capacity” by fiscal year 2020. The LRASM boasts stealthy features to penetrate enemy missile defenses, a 1,000-pound warhead, and a range disclosed only as “over 200 miles.”
The LRASM, already heading to Air Force units, is designed to detect and destroy specific targets operating within groups of ships by identifying the target using links to drones or aircraft. It’s currently on schedule to achieve early operational capability on the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2019.
The Navy also wants $50 million to buy sonobuoys for “forward staging requirements.”
More Shipyard Work
One of the biggest items in the unfunded list is $814 million to cover ship depot maintenance, which Richardson, in his letter to Congress, said suffers from “financial shortfalls associated with work scope and pricing growth.”
Keeping the industrial base hot has emerged as a major theme across the Pentagon, after years in which small suppliers have been squeezed out of the defense game by boom/bust cycles of procurement and shrinking margins. There is also increasing worry over parts and electronics made in places like China, which could be compromised or cut off in the event of conflict.
This extra $814 million appears to be part of a wider Navy project to boost the capabilities of shipyards in time for a big uptick in shipbuilding and getting ships out of drydock more quickly.
Just last week, the Navy unveiled its new 30-year shipbuilding plan, which revealed in 2021 it will roll out the Private Shipyard Optimization (PSO) initiative “for optimal placement of facilities and major equipment in each region,” including “infrastructure needed to support availability maintenance in support of a 355-ship Navy.”
There’ll be plenty of work to go around. To hit 355 ships by 2034 — something that is very much up for debate — the service will need to extend the life spans of its DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers at the same time it builds two new Ford-class carriers, new Columbia-class submarines, performs major upgrades on its Virginia-class subs, and kick off builds of its FFG(X) frigate and presumably a new cruiser. Navy leaders have also asked Congress to fund an extra Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and a third Virginia-class submarine in 2020.
The Navy has been struggling with a massive backlog in shipyard availabilities. A full 70 percent of the service’s destroyers are currently late making it out of the shipyard on time after repairs, a track record that severely impacts the ability of the service to reach its goal of a 355-ship fleet.
There’s also an added $52 million for F/A-18 Super Hornet engine spare parts and $79 million for facilities upgrades at Naval Air Station Coronado which would both contribute to getting aircraft up to an 80 percent readiness rate, as first demanded by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The supplemental also asks for $186 million to restore some money previously moved around to make fixes to infrastructure hit hard by hurricanes Michael and Florence which slammed into Florida, North carolina, and Virginia. It’s unclear how much more money the Navy will need to fix bases damaged by extreme weather, but the Marine Corps is currently staring down a $3.6 billion bill to repair Camp Lejeune after massive hurricane damage last fall.