Richard R. Burgess, SEAPOWER
16 March 2016
WASHINGTON – The Navy’s senior leaders defended the service’s submarine shipbuilding plans as they stressed the importance of strategic deterrence and overseas presence before legislators and outlined some initiatives to increase the capacity of the fleet.
Testifying March 16 before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill along with their Army and Air Force counterparts, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson supported the Ohio Replacement ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) program and said they are looking for cost savings to increase the size of the attack submarine (SSN) force.
The nuclear strategic deterrent triad – Navy ballistic-missile submarines and Air Force bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles – “are critical to our national security,” Richardson said.
“It’s a matter of national existence,” Mabus said. You’ve got to look at this [Ohio Replacement] program with a rational lens. It is an existential program.
“It’s our top priority,” Mabus said, adding that “We’ve been driving down the cost of these boats.”
Richardson thanked Congress for granting authorities for advance procurement to help the Navy reduce the cost of the Ohio Replacement and said the savings of 10 percent or more might allow the Navy procure effectively one of the 12 SSBNs for “free,” allowing the service to add an extra Virginia-class attack submarine in the 2021 budget.
Richardson explained that the attack submarine shortage in the next decade was the result of decisions made in the previous decade and that Los Angeles-class submarines bought in larger quantities in years past must be retired at the same rate, with fewer Virginia-class boats in line to replace them.
“These are long-term decisions,” he said. “We were building at three or four a year and they go out at the same rate.”
Building an extra Virginia-class SSN “would mitigate that trough somewhat,” he said.
Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., praised the multiyear procurement of the Virginia-class SSN for its part in enabling of purchasing 10 boats for the price of nine.
“It’s important we do these things 10 at a time,” Langevin said. “We got a submarine for free. I hope we’re not going to let multiyear procurement slip,” he said of future submarine procurement.
Richardson has said that great power competition as returned with the military growth of Russia and China. The submarine forces of those nations have been growing in capacity and capability.
Mabus noted that Russian submarine activity is at the “highest level we’ve seen since the Cold War.”
The Navy will conduct another force structure assessment this summer and Mabus said he expects the numbers to come in higher. The Navy currently is on track to reach 300 ships in 2019 and 308 in 2021, he said.
“I’ve started that look right now as part of our Force Structure Assessment and that includes submarine force levels,” Richardson said.