Key Lawmaker Defends Sea-Based Deterrence Fund (UPDATED)
As the release of the fiscal year 2017 budget request looms, one congressman defended the need for a special fund that would help the Navy pay for replacements of its Ohio-class nuclear ballistic submarines.
“There is an understanding today that we do have to increase the size of the Navy, and the Ohio-class replacement is an important part of what we’re going to be doing there,” said Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on seapower and projection forces.
In the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress created the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, which would separate the payment of the 12 submarines from the Navy’s regular budget, allowing the service to continue to fund other major acquisitions.
The fund was preserved in the fiscal year 2016 budget and has wide ranging support in Congress, he said Feb. 2 during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C.
“You have to look at some of the votes that we had on the House floor, which were pretty overwhelming for not just the fund but for the program itself,” he said. “It’s a pretty bipartisan vote but one of the things that was more interesting … [is] if that vote had occurred maybe a year before, two years before, I’m not sure it would have been the same vote.”
Some have criticized the controversial fund because it would take away money from other important Defense Department programs. The Congressional Budget Office, however, found that “if the Congress funded the purchase of the Ohio-replacement submarines through the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund … the Navy could potentially save several hundred million dollars per submarine by purchasing components and materials for several submarines at the same time.”
One disadvantage “is that if the Congress decided not to build all of the submarines for which the Navy purchased some materials, those materials might go unused,” said the CBO report, which was released in October.
The Navy knows it needs to buy 12 subs, Forbes said. That gives shipbuilders certainty and takes away risk.
“We’ve had CBO come back and actually say, ‘This thing is going to save a lot of money.’ They’ve talked 10 to 15 percent. So essentially, here is our question: We know we’re going to buy 12 of those boats. Do we want to pay for 12 or would we like to buy 12 and only have to pay for 11?” he asked.
Forbes said he would be open to alternative funding options as long as it could give the Navy as good a deal as the fund.
“We don’t care if they have another alternative, put another alternative for it,” he said. “If they can come up with an alternative, if they want to call it something other than the Sea-Based Deterrent Fund — but do exactly the same thing — we don’t care. But it just doesn’t make sense that in these days of dwindling funds that you would want to pay for 12 boats when you could get it for 11.”
The lead replacement ship has been estimated to cost $12.1 billion in 2015 dollars with follow-on ships costing $5.7 billion, according to the CBO.
Forbes noted that there has been a shift in the way politicians talk about shipbuilding. Now “virtually every Republican … they’re not just talking about increasing national defense, they’re talking about rebuilding the Navy and increasing the number of ships we have.”
He disagreed with a December memo by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter where he criticized the Navy for over-prioritizing fleet size and neglecting capability.
“I think this a huge false choice. If you start ever saying, “OK, do we want capacity or capability?’ you miss what national defense is all about,” he said.
The real question that must be asked is what does it take to defend a nation, he said. “We definitely need more ships. Every analysis that you have … [says] you’ve got to have more ships,” he said. “We’re not on Star Trek. We don’t get to beam them one place to the other. You have to sail them there, so you’ve got to have ships, … you’ve got to have presence and you’ve got to have surge capacity.”
Correction: The Navy intends to purchase 12 submarines.
Photo Credit: Navy