Testimony to the Seapower & Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
I would like to briefly review the military and economic challenges our nation faces, and then draw some conclusions about the outlook for naval ship construction.
The security challenges we face today are not worse than they were 20 years ago (what could be worse than having 10,000 nuclear warheads aimed at your country?) but they are more diverse.
Many of the challenges that trouble us today — such as failed states, Islamic terrorism and nuclear proliferation — barely affected our military plans at all during the cold war.
But that world is now long gone, replaced by a landscape of dangers that are both ambiguous and ubiquitous, thanks to the information revolution.
In this new world the joint force must be all things to all people, because we simply can’t say how threats will shift from year to year.
The sea services now spend much of their time engaged in non-traditional missions, and those missions often must be carried out even farther from home than in the old days.
So changes in the character and location of the security challenges we face, by themselves, would be enough to warrant a rethink of what kind of navy we need.
However, that will not be the biggest concern we have in the decade ahead.
The biggest concern will be that our economy is in decline and the federal government is out of money.
How broke is the federal government?
— So broke that during the two hours we are meeting this morning it will spend $400 million it does not have.
— So broke that the federal debt has doubled to $11 trillion in just eight years, and threatens to double again in the next eight.
— So broke that we are sustaining our defense posture in part by borrowing money from the same country our military planners are preparing to fight.
There is no time in living memory when U.S. finances have been in such bad shape, and therefore all the things we thought we knew about the future availability of funding for the joint force are suspect.
I have attached to the remarks I gave the subcommittee my cover story from the current issue of Armed Forces Journal about the impact of economic decline on military preparedness.
The article concludes that the days when 5% of the world’s population (us) could sustain nearly 50% of the world’s military spending are coming to an end.
What that means for naval ship construction is that current Navy plans are not affordable.
If we build the kind of networked, interoperable national fleet envisioned in the joint maritime strategy, then we can get very good results from the warships we do buy.
But we cannot get Navy ship numbers above 300 unless we purchase smaller, cheaper warships.
Unfortunately, that approach will not work with aircraft carriers or submarines, where we are locked into costs and construction rates that can only be cut by substantially reducing our global presence and warfighting capability.
We must sustain production of the Ford class of future aircraft carriers at the rate of one every four years, otherwise the number of flattops in the Fleet will remain below the twelve required.
And we must build the Virginia class of attack submarines at the rate of two per year for the foreseeable future if we are to avoid huge gaps in undersea warfare and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Thus, the savings needed to bring naval ship construction into alignment with likely resources will have to be found mainly in surface combatants and vessels associated with amphibious warfare.
The Navy has already begun the necessary adjustments by proposing to cancel the DDG-1000 destroyer, which is too costly and ill-suited to the emerging threat environment.
Terminating production at three vessels — and preferably two — while continuing construction of versatile Aegis destroyers is the only sensible response to military and fiscal realities.
With regard to smaller surface combatants, the Navy needs to make a choice between the two versions of the Littoral Combat Ship, and consider supplementing LCS with the more conventional National Security Cutter being built for the Coast Guard.
It is much too early to call LCS a “failed program” — the lead ship was delivered to the Fleet in half the usual time, and had a successful inspection — but the warships will cost more than expected and there are uncertainties surrounding the concept of operations.
While the National Security Cutter is slower and requires deeper water to operate, it has similar on-board equipment and longer endurance, making it potentially applicable to numerous missions.
The amphibious fleet presents a bigger puzzle, because it appears the stated requirement for 33 warships is too small given the greater bulk of up-armored combat vehicles and the need to establish Global Fleet Stations.
The decision to use the LPD-17 hull as a replacement for aging LSD vessels is a step towards greater affordability, since it greatly reduces design costs and extends serial production of an existing ship-type.
However, there are real doubts about the affordability of the future maritime prepositioning force, a fact underscored by OMB’s suggestion in its fiscal 2010 budget guidance to the Navy that spending on new prepositioning ships be canceled.
I would be pleased to elaborate on my views concerning all these programs during the question-and-answer period.
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