Rep. Randy Forbes vows to preserve the USS George Washington, seen here at the center of its battlegroup

Rep. Randy Forbes vows to preserve the USS George Washington, seen here at the center of its battlegroup

[UPDATED with details from the subcommittee mark] WASHINGTON: Just hours before the House Armed Services Committee rolls out its mark-up of the 2015 defense policy bill, the chairman of HASC’s seapower subcommittee is vowing to save the USS George Washington from early retirement and to preserve the nation’s fleet of 11 aircraft carriers.

[Updated: The seapower subcommittee’s “mark” of its portion of the 2015 NDAA, released this afternoon, would fence off 50 percent of the budget for Office of the Secretary of Defense until the Secretary “obligates funds” to plan for and buy long-lead-time material for refueling the Washington’s reactor core. That would in effect shut down the Secretary’s staff for half the year unless he made a financial commitment to keep Washington in the fleet.]

Rep. Randy Forbes remains deeply concerned about the Navy’s plan to mothball seven cruisers (ostensibly temporarily) and about what he considers its too-modest ambitions for its new UCLASS drone – but language fixing those problems will have to wait till later in the legislative process, he told reporters this morning.

“I will tell you this, we will keep that carrier,” Forbes said at a Defense Writers’ Group breakfast. “You won’t see a mark coming out under my name that doesn’t have that carrier taken care of.”

What about the planes that go on the carrier, which the administration would also eliminate under a sequester-level budget? “The air wing worries me,” Forbes said. “We’re working on that too.”

“We’re still working on the cruisers,” he added, for which legislative language will likely come later in the HASC process. “It may be later even this week,” he said. While details are still being worked out after a key decision “last night,” Forbes told the assembled reporters, “I feel pretty comfortable we won’t go with the exact plan the Navy has.

As for the UCLASS, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike drone, the Navy recently released a classified request for proposals with which Forbes and his staff are clearly dissatisfied. Forbes feels the Navy is putting too much emphasis on “surveillance” and not enough on the payload and survivability required for “strike.” So he intends to require Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reconsider the Navy’s requirements – “there’s a lot of support within the department for this,” he said. While Forbes emphasized he doesn’t want to delay UCLASS, which he considers a high priority, he did say he may propose enforcing this mandate by “fencing” funding for UCLASS so the Navy can’t spend it until that relook happens.

[Updated & corrected: Until the Secretary’s review was completed, the mark would forbid the UCLASS program from spending money on anything other than the review and day-to-day operations. While the Navy wasn’t planning to award a UCLASS contract until 2016 anyway, not being able to spend 2015 money to prepare for that award could put a crimp in the program, creating pressure to comply with the HASC’s mandates. (I’d misinterpreted this language in an earlier update to this article).]

Forbes saved his most scathing language for the administration’s aircraft carrier plan. The 2015 budget submission punts the decision to retire the USS George Washington or to refuel her reactors for another 25 years of service, with the administration arguing that they can’t make that call until they know whether Congress will accept their plan to go over the sequestration-level budget caps: The money to keep the Washington in service is in the portion of the budget request that’s above-and-beyond the Budget Control Act levels.

But “nobody in their right mind thought they were going to take that carrier out” for real, Forbes said. It was a political gimmick, he said – probably devised by “somebody at OMB” – to convince Congress to go along with the administration’s spending plan by saying that if they didn’t then one of the nation’s most iconic national security assets was at risk.

But in sending that message to Congress, Forbes argued, the administration also sent a dangerous message to our allies, friends, and potential adversaries, especially in the Pacific. “I don’t think there’s been a single ally who hasn’t been in my office asking, ‘what’s all this about pulling a carrier out?’” Forbes said.

The next decade or more will be a period dominated by seapower and long-range power projection forces such as bombers, Forbes argued – not coincidentally the jurisdiction of his subcommittee and a central industry in his district. Those capabilities need adequate funding, ideally under a larger defense budget but if necessary at the expense of lesser priorities.

“We’re an 11-carrier Navy in a 15-carrier world,” Forbes said. Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear has testified that “he can’t do he needs to do with 11 carriers. He sure can’t do it with 10.”

[Updated: The seapower subcommittee mark contains a slew of other measures. The ones that most caught my eye?

Ohio Replacement Program: The mark-up language would create a “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund” to pay for a new nuclear-missile submarine outside of the Navy budget. Navy backers have long argued the replacement for the current Ohio-class SSBN is both vital for national security and so expensive it will squeeze out other shipbuilding programs if the Navy is forced to bear the bill itself. The mark doesn’t actually find any money to put in the account, though.

Littoral Combat Ship: The mark would order the US Comptroller-General — who’s entirely independent of the Pentagon — to asses the Navy’s “Small Surface Combatant Task Force,” which is exploring upgrades and alternatives to LCS, and report on the SSCTF to Congress. That would effectively let Congress look over the shoulder of the task force, a nerve-wracking prospect for the Navy that would prefer to control what legislators see of its internal decision-making.

Fleet counting rules: The mark would create legal definitions for “combatant and support vessels” to forbid the Navy from adding certain types of ships to its count of the total “battle force,” something which the Navy considers simply adapting to the times but which Forbes sees as padding the numbers.

Joint High-Speed Vessel: The mark-up actually likes this program and would order the Pentagon to study buying eight more JHSVs on top of the 10 already under contract, which would bring the buy back to the original but long-since abandoned total of 18.]


  • Don Bacon

    preserve the nation’s fleet of 1110 aircraft carriers

    CV locations Apr 16, 2014: (10)
    Nimitz 5th & 6th Fleet AOR, Eisenhower Norfolk (DPIA), Vinson San Diego, Roosevelt Norfolk, Lincoln Newport News (RCOH to 11/16), Washington Yokosuka (3-mo SRA), Stennis Bremerton (PSNS & IMF to 8/14), Truman EastLant, Reagan SanDiego, Bush NorArabianSea
    — one 5th & 6th Fleet AOR, one NorArabianSea, one EastLant, seven in port

    • Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

      Yes, it’s odd to be discussing preserving an 11-CVN fleet when we only have 10, but ostensibly that’s a temporary dip between the time ENTERPRISE retired and FORD enters service.

      • Gary Church

        Those carrier battlegroups are…..such a tremendous amount of money it boggles the imagination. Especially when you consider that a few hundred million dollars in anti-ship missiles would send them all to the bottom. The lowly diesel submarine is a far superior warship. It’s all about the supersonic anti-ship missile in this first half of the 21st century. If we keep playing the big bully of the ocean someone is going to call our bluff sooner or later.

        • Horn

          Diminished speed, diminished endurance, and severely diminished range, especially when underwater. No VLS. For surveillance and wartime, those are huge downsides. “Far superior?” Definitely quieter, but not superior. Diesels are great for home and base defense, but nuclear subs are the best match to our navy’s requirements.

      • Don Bacon

        The Ford like its namesake (Gerry, not Edsel) is stumbling along, with its delays anything but temporary.

        The $13 billion USS Ford (CVN-78) received advance procurement funding in FY2001-FY2007 and was fully funded in FY2008-FY2011 using congressionally authorized four-year incremental funding. The carrier may be fully capable by February 2019, almost five years from now, and eighteen years from its inception, if they can work out the bugs in its dual band radar, arresting gear and the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. Also the present design has a faulty communications systems and insufficient berthing for some ranks.

        • Gary Church

          13 billion is an incredible amount of money for a ship. Unbelievable.

        • Marauder 2048

          Wow..the first ship of a new line experiencing technical and budgetary issues. Surely no precedent for that in naval history.

      • 2IDSGT

        Well, technically, the USS Kitty Hawk is being held in ready-reserve until FORD is commissioned; so there actually is an 11-carrier fleet.

        Also, it’s time to split UCLASS in two… a fast, light, and cheap program just to get something unmanned on the flight-deck as soon as possible; and a longer-term effort to build heavy TACAIR platforms.

        These idiotic attempts to make UCLASS do everything at once basically ensure that the program goes nowhere.

  • DorisRJohnson

    But in sending that message to Congress, Forbes argued, the administration also sent a dangerous message to our allies, friends, and potential adversaries, especially in the Pacific. “I don’t think there’s been a single ally who hasn’t been in my office asking, ‘what’s all this about pulling a carrier out?’” Forbes said.

  • Don Bacon

    current US carrier home ports:
    -Pacific (5) Everett – Nimitz; SanDiego – Vinson, Reagan; Bremerton – Stennis; Yokusuka – Washington
    -Atlantic (5) Norfolk – Eisenhower, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Bush

    Hey how about this — with the pivot to Asia-Pacific, how about transferring some of the five carriers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Norfolk (Rep. Forbes congressional area) to the west coast or even, say, Hawaii?
    (Just kidding, Randy.)

    • @notrizzo

      If we are accusing Forbes of supporting 11 CVNs for purely selfish reasons, then it should be noted that 1. Neither NNS or Naval Station Norfolk are in his district and 2. The amount of money expended on having a CVN (and CBG) at Norfolk is almost nothing compared to the money going toward the refuel/complex overhaul. Now a ton of works and many sub-contractors are in Forbes district, but I think it’s just as likely he got elected because he’s a supporter of Naval Forces as it is he supports Naval Forces because he wants to get re-elected. Improtant difference IMO.

  • Gary Church

    AIP systems for diesel subs have made them the perfect low cost platform from which to launch anti-ship missile swarm attacks. The new anti-ship missile sensors and computer programs are now so cheap and sophisticated they make even older retrofitted missiles essentially robots that can evade defenses and coordinate their attacks defeating any possible defense. A 400 million dollar submarine can lurk for weeks waiting to launch its 12 to 18 missiles with a range of over one hundred miles. These submarines have consistently evaded all attempts to stop them in war games by hiding near wrecks or seamounts. For the cost of a single aircraft carrier and it’s attack planes we could have a fleet of several HUNDRED. It must be understood that a small force of just a few of these submarines defending a coast would make any operations by our immensely expensive battle groups impossible. Figure it out.

    • Gary Church

      Sub vs. Carrier

    • tachyonzero

      Bah bah bah, I’m positively sure and accurately correct that you really don’t know the difference and the roles of these awesome platforms fills. figure it out.