STATEMENT OF RONALD O’ROURKE
BEFORE THE HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON SEAPOWER AND PROJECTION
FORCES ON THE NAVY’S FY2014
30-YEAR SHIPBUILDING PLAN
OCTOBER 23, 2013
As an opening comment, it can be noted that in discussing the 30 year plan, it is possible to Jose the forest for the trees- to focus on details of ship numbers and procurement costs so much that one loses track of what is at stake strategically. Strategic considerations that help form the context for considering the 30-year plan include, among other things, the U.S. strategic rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region, China’s modernization of its maritime military capabilities,2 and requests from U.S. regional combatant commanders for forward-deployed U.S. naval forces that would require a Navy of more than 500 ships to fully meet.
More broadly, it can be noted that U.S. naval forces, while not inexpensive, give the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans-a global commons that covers more than two-thirds of the planet’s surface- into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and otherwise defending U.S. interests around the world. The ability to use the world’s oceans in this manner- and to deny other countries the use of the world’s oceans for taking actions against U.S. interests-constitutes an immense asymmetric advantage for the United States, one so ubiquitous and longstanding that it can be easy to overlook or take for granted.
Given the current debate over the future of the federal budget and resulting choices for policymakers regarding U.S. strategy and the military forces for supporting it, strategic considerations such as these can be important to keep in mind when discussing the 30-year plan. The appendix at the end of this statement contains some additional comments relating U.S. naval forces to national strategy.
Major points of discussion about the 30-year plan, particularly the affordability challenge it poses, are now so well established, and repeated so often, that discussion of the plan is now at some risk of becoming stale and unproductive. Accordingly, the remainder of this statement is intended to offer some potential new perspectives on the plan, so as to refresh the discussion and make it potentially more valuable to Congress as its carries out its oversight of Navy shipbuilding programs and the Navy’s budget in general.
1. For more on the strategic rcbal:mcing, sec CRS Rcpon R42146, In Bncf: Assc>Smg the Jonunry 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG), by Catherine Dale nnd Pat Towell, nnd CRS Rcpon R42448, Pivot to the Pacilic? The Obama Administration’s “Rcbalnncmg” Toward Asin, by Mark E. Mnnyin, Coordinator.
2. For more on China’s modcmiz:ition o f its maritime military capabilities, sec CRS Rcpon Rl33153, China Nav:il Modcmiz:iuon. lmplic:itions for U.S Navy Cnp:ib1liticsBackground and Issues forCongrc!>S, by Ronnld O’Rourkc.
3. For examples of U.S. Navy testimony on this point, sec Appendix A ofCRS Rcpon RL32665, N:ivy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourkc.
Appendix: U.S. Naval Forces and National Strategy
In addition to the strategic considerations mentioned at the beginning of this statement, an additional point to note in relating U.S. naval forces to national strategy is that most of the world’s people, resources, and economic activity are located not in the Western Hemisphere, but in the other hemisphere, particularly Eurasia. In response to this basic feature of world geography, U.S. policymakers for the last several decades have chosen to pursue, as a key element of U.S. national strategy, a goal of preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another, on the grounds that such a hegemon could deny the United States access to some of the other hemisphere’s resources and economic activity.
Although U.S. policymakers do not often state this key national strategic goal explicitly in public, U.S. military operations in recent decades- both wartime operations and day-to-day operations- have been carried out in no small part in support of this key goal.
The U.S. goal of preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another is a major reason why the U.S. military is structured with force elements that enable it to cross broad expanses of ocean and air space and then conduct sustained, large-scale military operations upon arrival. Force elements associated with this goal include, among other things, significant numbers of Air Force long-range bombers, long-range surveillance aircraft, long-range airlift aircraft, and aerial refueling tankers, and significant numbers of Navy aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered attack submarines, large surface combatants, large amphibious ships, and underway replenishment ships.
The United States is the only country in the world that designs its military to cross broad expanses of ocean and air space and then conduct sustained, large-scale military operations upon arrival. The other countries in the Western Hemisphere do not design their forces to do this because they cannot afford to, and because the United States is, in effect, doing it for them. Countries in the other hemisphere do not design their forces to do this for the very basic reason that they are already in the other hemisphere, where the action is, and consequently instead spend their defense money on forces that are tailored largely for influencing events in their own neighborhood.
The fact that the United States designs its military to do something that other countries do not design their forces to do-cross broad expanses of ocean and air space and then conduct sustained, large-scale military operations upon arrival- can be important to keep in mind when one sees the U.S. military compared with those of other nations. When observers, for example, question why the U.S. Navy has 11 aircraft carriers, pointing out that other countries do not have anything like that number, it would appear they are overlooking or downplaying this basic point. Other countries do not need a significant number of aircraft carriers because, unlike the United States, they are not designing their forces to cross broad expanses of ocean and air space and then conduct sustained, large-scale military operations upon arrival.
A variation on this argument by comparison to other countries is that U.S. naval forces are clearly sufficient- or excessive because they are equal in tonnage to the next dozen or more navies combined, most of which are the navies of allies. Those other fleets, however, are mostly of Eurasian countries, which do not design their forces to cross to the other side of the world and then conduct sustained, large scale military operations upon arrival. The fact that the U.S. Navy is a lot bigger than allied navies does not necessarily prove that U.S. naval forces are either sufficient or excessive; it simply reflects the differing and generally more limited needs that U.S. allies have for naval forces. (It might also reflect an underinvestment by some of those allies to meet even their more limited naval needs.) Again, it would appear that observers who make this cross-national comparison are overlooking or downplaying this point.
Countries have differing needs for naval and other military forces, and the United States, as a country located in the Western Hemisphere with a goal of preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon in one part of Eurasia or another, has defined a need for naval and other military forces that is quite different from the needs of allies that are located in Eurasia. The sufficiency of U.S.
naval and other military forces consequently is best assessed not through comparison to the militaries of other countries, but against U.S. strategic goals.
As a final comment, it can be noted that the point made at the beginning of this statement about U.S. naval forces giving the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and otherwise defending U.S. interests would be less important if less of the world were covered by water, or if the oceans were carved into territorial blocks, as is the land. But most of the world is covered by water, and most of those waters are international waters, where naval forces can operate freely. So the point is not that U.S. naval forces are intrinsically special or privileged – it is that they have a certain value simply as a consequence of the physical and legal organization of the planet.
VIRGINIA-CLASS AND OHIO REPLACEMENT SUBMARINE PROGRAMS
Thinking more expansively about MYP and block buy contracting, some observers have raised the possibility of procuring both Virginia-class attack submarines and Ohio replacement ballistic missile submarines under a joint block buy contract covering both classes of ships. Such a contract- which, like all block buy contracts, would require special legislative authority-might generate savings greater than what would be possible under separate multiyear contracts for each class. Extending this thinking even further, a potential additional option in implementing a joint, cross-class block buy contract for Virginia class and Ohio replacement boats would be to modify the current division of shipyard work for building Virginia-class boats as needed to ensure an optimal joint strategy for building both classes.
The current division of shipyard work for building Virginia-class boats is set forth in the General Dynamics-Hll joint teaming agreement for the Virginia-class. As a consequence, the division of Virginia class shipyard work is in effect a fixed factor, while the allocation of Ohio replacement shipyard work is yet to be determined and is a variable that can be optimized.
The Navy can tune the division of Ohio replacement work in the context of the fixed Virginia-class division of work to arrive at a good overall approach for building both classes. The resulting approach, however, might not be as efficient as a solution in which Navy treated the division of work for both classes as variables, and then optimized the build strategy for both classes together. The Navy, moreover, has testified recently that the Ohio replacement program is the service’s top program priority*, and that if sufficient funding is not made available for all Navy shipbuilding programs, the Navy would continue to fully fund the Ohio replacement program while reducing planned procurement of other ship types, including Virginia class submarines**. Particularly in that circumstance, it might make sense to tune the Virginia class division of work so as to produce a solution that is better for building both classes not only in a situation of sufficient shipbuilding funding, but also in a situation where limits on shipbuilding funding lead to Virginia-class boats being dropped from the shipbuilding plan.
As mentioned above, the division of shipyard work for building Virginia-class boats is set forth in the joint teaming agreement for the Virginia-class. The terms of this agreement cannot be changed without the consent of both of the submarine builders. Given the success of the Virginia-class program as an acquisition effort, the Navy and the submarine builders may be averse to reopening the Virginia-class joint teaming agreement. The submarine builders might also be averse to reopening the agreement because a reallocation of the work might lead to a net loss of Virginia-class work for one of the builders.
On the other hand, reopening the joint teaming agreement might enable a highly efficient approach for building both classes whose savings could help make possible the retention of a larger number of Virginia-class boats in the shipbuilding plan in a situation of constrained shipbuilding funding. In 1997, in the third year of a debate over the acquisition strategy for the Virginia class, the submarine builders and the Navy presented to Congress a creative proposal for building the class under a joint teaming In light of the Navy’s expanded use of MYP and block buy contracting, there might be a new opportunity for the submarine builders and the Navy to modify the division of Virginia-class work under that agreement as part of a creative effort to arrive at the best possible approach for building both Virginia-class and Ohio replacement-class boats.
*Statement of Admiml Jonathan Greenert. U.S. Navy, Chicf of Naval Operations, Before the House Armed Services Committee on Planning for Sequestration in FY 2014 and Perspectives of the Military Services on the Strategic Choices and Management Review, September 18, 2013, p. 10.
** Sec the spoken testimony of Rear Admiral Richard Breckenridge at this subcommittee’s hearing on September 12 on undersea warfare. The testimony in question appears in CRS Report R41129, Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourkc. (Sec section entitled
“September 2013 Navy Testimony.”)