HASC Seapower Chair Vows To Protect 11-Carrier Fleet
“I will tell you this, we will keep that carrier,” the Virginia Republican, who chairs the HASC subcommittee on seapower and projection forces, said at a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C. “You won’t see a mark coming out under my name that doesn’t have that carrier taken care of.”
The fate of the USS George Washington (CVN-73) is imperiled by the Navy’s fiscal 2015 budget submission that lawmakers will mull this week.
Depending on whether Congress continues with deep budget cuts under sequestration past 2015, the ship and its air wing will be inactivated rather than come to Newport News for a refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) in 2016. Such a decision would put the carrier fleet one short of the 11 carriers mandated by Congress.
Forbes said pulling the USS George Washington from service was “symbolically, one of the worst things” the Navy’s budget proposal could do to reassure U.S. allies.
To keep it in the fleet, the Navy would have to find another $6 billion to $7 billion over the next five years. Forbes said the move to sacrifice the George Washington to sequestration was a purely political maneuver. “We will keep that carrier,” he said. “The Navy knew that. The Pentagon knew that. … Nobody in their right mind over there thought we were going to take that carrier out. It was put in there because somebody at [the Office of Management and Budget] or someone said ‘We want the Navy to look like they’re taking pain’ and this is the big symbol.”
In the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere, U.S. national security policy will likely rely heavily on seapower and projection forces, Forbes said. Yet, while many U.S. allies are building up their navies in recognition of that expectation, the U.S. Navy is shrinking.
Aside from the proposal to reduce the carrier fleet by one, the Navy has pitched a plan to put 11 Aegis cruisers in dry dock for what the service calls “long-term phased modernization.” The ships will be unavailable for deployment during the unspecified period and will save the Navy $4 billion over the next five years.
New platforms coming online like the littoral combat ship are “providing a service to the Navy,” but are not capable of replacing those capital warships, he said.
“The cruisers are your muscle ships that are out there protecting your carrier groups,” Forbes said. “You start parking 11 cruisers, you better get some muscle out there to help. But that doesn’t mean that you still don’t need the mining capabilities, the littoral capabilities that an LCS can give you.”
Forbes said the seapower subcommittee is “still working on” saving the cruisers from dry dock. He plans to include an amendment either to its markup or to that of the full HASC to limit or strike the proposal.
“I am not really comfortable with the Navy’s plan,” he said. “I think it is important that we keep those cruisers alive. I think it’s important that we begin the modernization of some of those cruisers. … I feel pretty comfortable we won’t go with the exact plan the Navy had.”
The Defense Department has done a poor job estimating numbers and types of ships that are needed for a particular strategy, he said. Many times, it has decided to buy a particular ship, then subsequent studies are done to justify the desire for that ship.
“We’ve got to do better analysis to make sure we’ve got the strategy right,” he said. “The Pentagon has to look at the strategy and start letting strategy drive our budget.
Forbes took aim specifically at the Navy’s ongoing program to develop a carrier-based drone, call unmanned carrier-launch surveillance and strike, or UCLASS. He plans to ask the secretary of defense to authorize a “second look” at the requirements for the aircraft.
“It is important that we get this right,” he said. “The decisions we make with the UCLASS now are going to last us a decade or 20 years. … I want to make sure there are no major gaps that we have between what we need to do and the operational” capability of the system.
“The question is, 'Do you want a surveillance vehicle that can fly around or do we want something that has the right payload and survivability down the road?'” Forbes asked. “I would probably take the requirements of the UCLASS in a little bit different direction than I see it going right now. I think the UCLASS needs to be a very important part of our carrier wing.”