Mabus: Protecting Shipbuilding ‘Til The Last Dog Dies’
By Richard R. Burgress
March 4, 2015
ARLINGTON, Va. — The secretary of the Navy has emphasized the need to maintain a steady clip of shipbuilding, warning that a missing a year can never be made up.
“I’m going to do my utmost to preserve shipbuilding,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said, repeating his top concern to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee (SAC-D) March 4 as he did with the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee (HAC-D) Feb. 26 with the specter of budget sequestration returning in 2016.
“Building ships is a very long-term process,” said Mabus, responding to a question from Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. “It is complex and requires very specific skill sets. If you miss a year building a Navy ship, you never make it up.
“Having said that,” Mabus continued, “As you protect shipbuilding, as you protect those numbers because you do have to have that properly sized fleet, other things begin to break: our readiness gets stretched; our surge capacity gets stretched; our forces are deployed longer and for more hazardous missions.”
Mabus pointed out that in the early 1990s the fleet size was approximately 400 ships, with 100 deployed at any given time, but that today the fleet has about 280 ships, but still with 100 deployed.
“In any budget decision, shipbuilding is protected until the last dog dies,” he said. “But doing that causes and exacerbates problems in many, many other places.”
“It underwrites everything,” said Chief of Naval Operations ADM Jonathan W. Greenert, in response to Shelby on the same issue. “Therefore, we’ll look at modernization, munitions [to slow or cut] because we can recover from that more quickly.”
Mabus assured Shelby, in whose state the Independence-class littoral ship (LCS) is built, that the Navy plans to “keep procuring both variants [of the LCS and new frigate], competitively, through the entire 52 [ship] buy.”
Shelby also asked about the 2008 requirement for 18 Joint High-Speed Vessels (JHSVs), subsequently reduced to 10, but plussed up one by Congress in the 2015 budget, and whether the Navy was going to push for 18 JHSVs.
Mabus said the requirement was reduced to 10 based on combatant commanders’ requirements but that “we’re going to keep a continuous look on that because as Gen [Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commandant of the Marine Corps] said today, we don’t have adequate lift, particularly in the Pacific. The JHSV is one of the solutions to that. We will continue to evaluate how many we need.”
In response to a question from Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Mabus praised the advantages of multiyear procurement of ships in reducing costs through stability of ordering materials and shipyard planning.
“[Because of] the contract that we signed last summer to buy 10 Virginia-class submarines over the next five years, we got 10 submarines for the cost of nine,” Mabus said. “We got a submarine for free.”
With regard to the Ohio Replacement ballistic-missile submarine, “regardless of how much we can drive the cost down, or regardless of what we can do to the schedule, if we don’t either pay for this as a national program, or plus up Navy shipbuilding to account for it, I can’t stress how harmful the effects will be on either the fleet or everything else in the Navy, and that includes attack submarines,” he said.
Noting the creation earlier this year of a National Sea-Based Deterrent Fund, Reed said, “I would hope that this committee would look very favorably in providing funds through that mechanism to supplement your shipbuilding fund.”
“We very much appreciate the establishment of that fund and think that it’s a great first step in that direction,” Mabus replied, pointing out that earlier classes of ballistic-missile submarines were funded with “pretty dramatic increases” but that the increases were not enough to shield the rest of shipbuilding. From ’76 to ’80, when we first began the Ohio class, our fleet went down by 40 percent.”