WASHINGTON: The House Armed Services Committee will authorize — though not require — the Navy to buy 10 Virginia-class attack submarines and 10 Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers over five years, instead of the nine of each type requested in the President’s budget. While the Navy was open to buying 10 DDGs, the HASC language constitutes a rejection of the administration’s plan, already unpopular on the Hill, to save money by delaying sub purchases.
The committee is also working on legislative language that would prohibit the fleet from having fewer than 12 ballistic-missile submarines in service, which would require the service either to keep its current Ohio-class SSBNs in service longer than planned or accelerate the development of an extremely expensive replacement, which the current budget proposal had delayed as an economy measure, much to key legislators’ displeasure.
Unlike the mandate for at least 12 SSBNs, the language on the Virginia submarines and on the destroyers does not require the administration to do anything, only that it may: The draft bill (or mark) released today by the HASC seapower subcommittee simply says in each case that the ” the Secretary of the Navy may enter into a multiyear contract… for the procurement of not more than 10″ of each vessel. (The 10 destroyers would be bought over fiscal years 2013-2017; the attack submarines over 2014-2018).
Congress rarely grants the authority to enter into multi-year procurement contracts, which the Pentagon generally prefers to buying equipment year by year. (Pentagon policy is not even to enter into an MYP contract unless it can save ten percent or more on the procurement). On the destroyer program specifically, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley has publicly said that the service hopes an MYP would give it enough leverage in price negotiations with the shipyards to make a tenth DDG-51 affordable. But the Navy had not been advocating a tenth Virginia submarine, which would be a much bigger funding challenge than the tenth destroyer — and no one knows where the money might come from.
Edited at 9:55 am on Thursday, 26 April to clarify the Navy’s position on the difficulty of adding the tenth Virginia-class submarine.