Correction: This commentary previously misidentified the fiscal year in which the Marine Corps’ amphibious ships inventory is to drop to 24 . That is planned to occur by fiscal 2024.
America is a maritime nation, and we have been one since our inception; the 30-year shipbuilding plan from the Biden administration does not reflect our legacy or present a vision for our future. Instead, this plan would abandon key tenants of American naval power, shirk congressionally mandated shipbuilding requirements, break faith with our shipbuilding-industrial base, and put the Navy on a path of near-term decline during a pivotal decade for confronting the coercive maritime activities of China and Russia.
The myriad failures of this 30-year shipbuilding request are exacerbated by the Biden administration’s decision to hide its anemic ship-construction plan and intention to accelerate ship retirements from Congress last year by only previewing fiscal 2022 decisions in its budget request.
The Biden administration only delivered this plan following pressure from Congress to provide a substantive path forward. What substance the Biden administration now provides regarding its vision for the future of the fleet is deeply disappointing.
Over 30 years, the Biden administration projects that it will only reach the required battle force inventory of 355 ships by FY43 in an unconstrained budget scenario, while submitting a budget request for FY23 that fails to keep pace with historic inflation at every turn.
Unavoidably, this 30-year shipbuilding plan will undermine key naval missions. The missile tube capacity of the fleet will be reduced by 10% as the Navy retires the remaining cruise missile submarines this decade, along with 17 Ticonderoga-class cruisers — notably reducing the air warfare and surface strike capabilities of the fleet.
The Navy’s mine countermeasure mission will be all but abandoned as the Navy retires its eight dedicated MCM ships over the FY23 Future Years Defense Program; accelerates the retirement of the Freedom-class littoral combat ships; retires all MQ-8B Fire Scout UAVs and over half of the MQ-8C UAVs; and retires two expeditionary sea base ships that could have been used for MCM missions.
Historically, the Navy has maintained an equivalent number of carrier air wings to match the numbers of operational aircraft carriers. Even though the Navy is required by law (10 U.S. Code 8062e) to obtain a minimum of 10 carrier air wings by 2025 and anticipates growing the fleet to 12 aircraft carriers by 2024, inexplicably the Navy requested authority from Congress this year to allow the service to keep just nine carrier air wings.
Shipbuilding programs intended to support the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 would also be curtailed under this plan, irresponsibly restricting the forcible entry capabilities of the joint force. Under any of the shipbuilding projections delivered by this plan, the Marine Corps drops to 24 amphibious ships in FY24 and proposes the early end to the production of the LPD-17 Flight II line.
The outlook for the Corps is particularly worrisome, as the plan fails to differentiate between the different mission sets of the light amphibious warship and its role as an intra-theater connector compared to traditional amphibious ships.
At its core, this plan also fundamentally breaks faith with the shipbuilding-industrial base. It will restrict construction on the FFG-62 Constellation-class frigate so that no second yard will be able to receive work, and the Navy’s ability to disaggregate forces this decade will be limited as a result.
The plan will also deliver a multiyear procurement authority for just nine DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers, paving the way for reducing future production goals.
The lack of a concrete plan beyond the FYDP will continue a trend of uncertainty that risks becoming systemic for the shipbuilding-industrial base at a time when workforce concerns and facility modernization investments are of paramount importance for building and maintaining the future fleet.
Congress must reject this plan. We need a budget that is driven by a strategy to secure the national defense of the United States and our global interests; this shipbuilding plan fails at every turn. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to “provide and maintain a Navy,” and we must uphold that charge and rectify the wrongs committed by President Joe Biden’s budget request and 30-year shipbuilding plan.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., is the ranking member of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.