03.04.20

Senator David Perdue Chairs Hearing On Navy Shipbuilding

“If we are to remain the global leader above, on, and under the seas, we must get serious about building the fleet we need.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, today led a hearing on Navy shipbuilding programs as the committee prepares for the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Click here to watch Chairman Perdue’s opening remarks.

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Chairman Perdue’s Opening Remarks (as prepared for delivery)

The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower convenes this morning to examine Navy shipbuilding programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2021 and the Future Years Defense Program.

This is our subcommittee’s first meeting of the year. I look forward to continuing our tradition of working in a bipartisan manner this year. Ranking Member Hirono, thank you for your continued leadership.

We welcome our three distinguished witnesses:

  • The Honorable James F. Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition;
  • Vice Admiral James W. Kilby, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities; and
  • Lieutenant General Eric M. Smith, Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Combat Development and Integration.

Today, the world is more dangerous than anytime in my lifetime. I agree with the National Defense Strategy that today we are facing five key threats: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and global terrorism. We face these threats across five domains: land, air, sea, cyber, and space.

As we speak, our country’s adversaries are plotting to undermine us, overtake us, and in some cases, eliminate our very way life. Our military remains the envy of the world, but the competition is picking up and we cannot be complacent.

Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we reset defense spending in 2017, and we are beginning to rebuild the military after many years of neglect. But the hole is deep and work has just begun. I commend our witnesses for submitting a budget that continues the trend of better funding the readiness accounts that support today’s Navy and Marine Corps.

In 2016, the Navy increased its minimum requirement to 355 battle force ships, a reflection of the strategic shift to great power competition. Today, the Navy stands at 295 battle force ships. 

It appears to me that the Department of the Navy’s proposed budget is sufficient to support a fleet of about 300 ships. The budget proposal for fiscal years 2021 through 2025 does not keep pace with inflation, which means growing the Navy much at all, much less to the 355 ships we need to meet all the threats we face, is financially unrealistic.

An example of the financial challenge is 10 fewer ships are planned for procurement in fiscal years 2021 through 2025, as compared to last year, including one less Virginia-class submarine in fiscal year 2021. I personally find this situation unacceptable given the National Defense Strategy (NDS) requirements and what we know our adversaries are doing. I believe the need for a larger, more capable fleet is clear.

I think it is time we rethink how we fund our Navy and shipbuilding enterprise. Today, we spend roughly $750 billion on our military. Each department of the military gets roughly one third of what’s left after overhead.

Our current National Defense Strategy is a maritime strategy, as former Secretary Mattis stated. I am skeptical that the current one-third funding level for the Department of the Navy is enough to meet that goal. If we are to remain the global leader above, on, and under the seas, we must get serious about building the fleet we need.

To this end, I believe many promising initiatives are contained in the SHIPS Implementation Act that Senator Wicker introduced last month. I look forward to working with Senator Wicker on his proposals for this year’s NDAA. Options to improve industrial base stability and fund the Columbia-class submarine program, at least partly, outside of the Navy’s budget deserve serious consideration.

However, it is difficult to have a discussion of the future fleet, including the associated costs and schedules, without a 30-year shipbuilding plan, which by law, was required to be submitted to Congress with the budget last month.

In addition, I understand the Department has been reassessing the fleet size requirement over the past two years. Based on earlier comments from Navy leaders, I expected this review to be complete in late-2019. Without it, this subcommittee will struggle to understand how new platforms are envisioned to integrate into the fleet.

Which brings me to China. As this chart shows, China’s fleet is on a very different trajectory from ours. The Chinese currently have 350 battle force ships and are projected to have 425 by 2030. In contrast, last year’s shipbuilding plan showed our Navy on a path to reach 355 ships by 2034.

This year, there is no shipbuilding plan and the budget documents reflect a fleet size of about 306 ships. I would observe shipbuilding and fleet size trends, and therefore the Navy to some extent, seem to be going in reverse in this budget request, as compared to the Department’s previous plans.

The Department of Defense needs to be clear with Congress and the American people about the threats and their proposed plans. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “provide and maintain a Navy.” It is the Department’s responsibility to give us the information we need to carry out this duty and that is not currently happening.

We are also hearing about “affordability” and the “best balance of resources” in hearings this year. I applaud the effort to adequately fund personnel, maintenance and other supporting functions. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Navy must get bigger and we must find a way to pay for it. Because if we don’t, make no mistake, the Chinese will only accelerate the expansion of their maritime influence around the globe, creating fait accompli dilemmas at every turn, which come at the expense of U.S. interests and those of our partners and allies. The stakes are real.

This subcommittee will continue to work with the Navy and Marine Corps to build a larger, more capable and flexible fleet, while at the same time demanding the best use of every taxpayer dollar.

I look forward to our witnesses’ testimony. I now recognize Senator Hirono. 

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When Senator Perdue was elected, he was the only Fortune 500 CEO in Congress. He is serving his first term in the United States Senate, where he represents Georgia on the Armed Services, Banking, Budget, and Foreign Relations Committees.