Acquisition Concerns Loom Large at CNO Confirmation Hearing
Concerns about acquisitions loomed large at the July 30 confirmation hearing for Adm. John Richardson, who has been nominated to be the next chief of naval operations.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, directed his ire at the Navy’s latest aircraft carrier program, which he described as a “glaring example of cost overruns and schedule delays.”
“Each Ford-class aircraft carrier has experienced more than $2 billion in cost growth. This program continues to be plagued by technology immaturity, concurrent development and production, and a lack of reliability test data for critical systems. This is unacceptable — I repeat unacceptable — and I fully expect the Navy’s ongoing study of alternative aircraft carrier designs to provide real options,” McCain told Richardson during the hearing.
Richardson, currently the director of the naval nuclear propulsion program, was asked if he supported a provision in the Senate’s fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for examination of alternative platforms for aviation.
“I look very much forward to supporting that study completely and seeing what information it produces,” he said, without indicating whether he would pursue an alternative to the Ford-class.
Richardson said he shared McCain’s concerns about the cost overruns, and promised that he would be “very involved in acquisitions” if he is confirmed.
The program that received the greatest amount of scrutiny at the hearing was the Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine, also known as the SSBN(X).
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the program would cost more than $100 billion. Lawmakers and Navy officials are worried that the high price tag could wreck the service’s other shipbuilding accounts.
Richardson described the Ohio replacement as the Navy’s “number one modernization priority.”
“This is an absolutely critical program for the country, and we are doing everything in the Navy to make sure that we not only get the requirements right and stable, but that we treat our cost targets like any other performance parameter for that program and we … achieve all of those cost targets,” he said.
Richardson testified that the Navy would take several steps to keep costs down, noting that the requirements for the Ohio replacement are already set. The service is working toward providing a mature and stable design before production begins to avoid “costly change orders,” and he hopes to have a build plan that would allow for stable and predictable funding, he said. The Navy is slated to complete a study aimed at maturing the design and build plans sometime this fall, he said.
Still, Richardson noted that the program would be costly. “If we absorb that entire cost within the Navy, that will come at a tremendous price in terms of our other responsibilities and ships and aircraft,” he warned.
The admiral praised the decision by lawmakers to set up a special National Sea-based Deterrence Fund that would help pay for the SSBN(X).
“The creation of this fund I think highlights the existential importance of this program to our nation, and also that executing this program will require a combination both of resources and authorities,” he said.
Richardson came under fire recently for his public efforts to secure funding for the Ohio replacement. In June, the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, accused the officer of violating anti-lobbying laws. At the behest of McCain, the Navy asked the Defense Department Inspector General to assess whether Richardson had overstepped the line. The IG ultimately cleared the admiral of any wrongdoing.
McCain indicated that Richardson’s confirmation would face no serious political opposition from the committee.
“You are well qualified and we will attempt to make sure that your nomination is confirmed before we depart for our ill-deserved August recess,” McCain said at the end of the hearing.