USS Freedom (LCS 1) and USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) sail outside of their homeport in February 2013 in San Diego. (Lockheed Martin)
WASHINGTON — The House Seapower subcommittee markup that was revealed on Tuesday offered at least one surprise — cutting the Navy’s request for three littoral combat ships to only two — but the bill supports the other new ship requests, including two destroyers and two submarines.
As expected, the mark supports a full 11-carrier fleet and opposes the Navy’s desire to decommission the aircraft carrier George Washington if there is no change in the mandated sequestration budget cuts. The Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee would provide full funding for the carrier’s reactor refueling overhaul, as well as ensuring full funding for the Gerald R. Ford, first of a new class of carrier now under construction.
A source familiar with the subcommittee’s deliberations noted there had been a “real effort to zero out the LCS request,” based on perceptions of a flawed program and the need to eliminate some spending.
“The money’s just not there for everything,” the source said. “This is a compromise between nothing and three. Something had to go.”
Although the mark includes full funding for only two littoral combat ships, it would provide advance procurement funding for two more.
The subcommittee moved to establish a Strategic Sea Deterrence Fund as a method to support strategic submarine development outside the Navy’s annual research and development and ship procurement requests. Whether this is approved by the full committee, or the appropriators, remains to be decided. Development of the SSBN(X) Ohio-class replacement submarine is expected to have a major impact on the Navy’s shipbuilding budget through the 2020s.
The subcommittee’s proposed legislation fights back at the Navy’s moves to change the way it counts its battle force ships, and opposes the inclusion of patrol coastal vessels, non-commissioned combatant craft and “ships that are designated for potential mobilization.” The latter seems to be a direct shot at the Navy’s plan to inactivate 11 cruisers but maintain them in some sort of state of preservation, ready to be mobilized if need be.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., also introduced language prohibiting the “premature retirement” of the cruisers, along with three amphibious ships, and directs the Navy to include two cruisers in its 2015 modernization plans.
The mark also requires the secretary of defense to review the requirements for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program, a new and stealthy jet-powered aircraft. Forbes has said he’s concerned the program is not putting enough emphasis on the strike aspect of the effort.
Forbes, in a statement, said the markup, “whether ensuring an 11-aircraft carrier fleet, setting the direction for the future composition of the carrier air wing, continuing the United States’ advantage in undersea warfare, or supporting our Air Force refueling capability ... continues our subcommittee’s bipartisan tradition of advocating for US dominance at sea and in the air.”
The mark also supported several Air Force programs, including authorization of the first low-rate initial production lot of KC-46 tanker aircraft, and support for a C-130 avionics modernization program.
In a move to restore Pentagon cuts in guided weapons, the mark also adds 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles using existing multi-year procurement authority.