Carrier refuel, new amphib among Navy shipbuilding plans
The Navy plans to move forward with an overhaul of its aircraft carrier USS George Washington and seek funding for another amphibious ship.
Both requests are part of a $16.6 billion shipbuilding budget that assumes the repeal or offset of sequestration budget caps, an uncertainty in the new Congress.
They were part of the Defense Department budget proposal released Monday for fiscal year 2016, which begins in October.
Navy leaders are asking for $678 million in funding for a midlife refueling and modernization of the nuclear-powered Washington. The project, estimated to cost $4.7 billion and take almost four years to complete, has become a focal point of government debates over defense budgeting.
The military had planned to retire the carrier before its overhaul, citing budget caps and a strategic reassessment of the nation’s carrier needs.
Dropping the ship would leave the U.S. with 10 carriers in its fleet. But Congress opposed retiring the ship, and the military chose to defer its funding request until fiscal 2016, when sequestration caps would return after a two-year budget deal offset them.
The military has asked for $35 billion in spending above those caps for the coming fiscal year, testing Congress’ will to maintain the lowered spending levels.
Congress has already set aside more than $800 million in advance funding for the carrier overhaul, and plans call for the Navy to seek the $3.2 billion balance over fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
The shipbuilding budget also requests $550 million for the funding balance of another San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the 12th ship in a line the Navy had planned to keep at 11, citing high costs and other priorities. The 26,000-ton vessel can carry roughly 800 Marines, their aircraft and landing craft for a variety of operations.
As with the carrier overhaul, Congress set aside advance funding for the ship in recent defense bills, despite the lack of a formal request from the Navy. Members designated $234 million for the ship in 2013 and $1 billion more in last year’s appropriations bill.
The Navy estimates a 12th ship would cost about $1.7 billion.
The service has appeared ambivalent about the vessel. Shipbuilding boss Sean Stackley told Congress last year that although a 12th ship could provide an “industrial bridge” for amphibious shipbuilders — preserving technical know-how as vessel construction hits a gap in the coming years — the project was eclipsed by other needs.
“[T]hat billion-plus (dollar issue) has to enter into a budget process where we’ve got other bills that are, frankly, a higher priority,” he said.
The 10th and 11th ships of the San Antonio class, the USS John P. Murtha and USS Portland, are expected to be delivered to the Navy in 2016 and 2017.
The new vessel would be a win for the Marine Corps, which has complained it has too few amphibious ships to meet global requirements. The corps says it needs a total of 38 amphibious ships to meet strategic objectives, but it has compromised with the Navy to accept 33, a number yet to be reached by the fleet.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told Congress last March that the Navy had 29 amphibious ships operational at the time.
Another contract would also be a boon for shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries, which has constructed every other ship in the class at its yard in Pascagoula, Miss.
The Navy’s shipbuilding budget would continue the annual purchase of two Virginia-class fast-attack submarines and two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers. It plans a buy of three littoral combat ships, and it continues the design and construction of future aircraft carriers.
The Navy budget also calls for $16.4 billion in aircraft procurement, including 13 F-35 joint strike fighters and 16 P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, which replaces the P-3.
Spending caps installed under the 2011 Budget Control Act have been problematic for military procurement programs, which require significant advance planning and long-term funding.
The Pentagon has requested $535 billion in base defense spending, more than $35 billion in excess of the budget caps set to take effect. It budgets $161 billion in combined base funding for the Navy and Marine Corps. Fiscal year 2016 runs from Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016.