The seminar professors were Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, and Vice Adm. Terry Blake, a deputy chief of naval operations with a fancy title who is really the service’s chief budget officer.
The students were lawmakers on the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and projection forces.
Subject of that day: President Obama’s $13.5 billion fiscal 2013 shipbuilding budget. The students had many questions, and Stackley and Blake offered frank, clear answers.
First, Stackley provided background that showed the amazing number of ships being built and future plans. The Navy today is “a battle force of 282 ships, nearly half of which on any given day are underway performing missions around the globe,” he said.
Over the past year “two destroyers, a submarine [and] a dry-cargo ammunition ship have joined the fleet.”
He added that the amphibious assault ship USS San Diego will be commissioned this spring, along with six other ships.
He also noted that “keels have been laid” for the lead ship of the DDG-1000-class destroyer ($3 billion); plus the next littoral combat ship ($48.7 million); another Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine ($2 billion); and the next cargo ship.
Since December 2010, contracts have been awarded to procure 38 ships. That number grows to 40 shortly with the award of the next-generation large-deck amphibious assault ship, as well as the final ship of the earlier-version amphibious assault ship.
The fiscal 2013 budget seeks 10 additional ships. But that actually represents a reduction of $1.5 billion and one ship from this year because of cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Since Navy ships take years to build, reductions next year affect future shipbuilding, starting with fiscal 2014.
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), chairman of the subcommittee, asked about a planned Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine that was being pushed from the 2014 fiscal budget to the fiscal 2018 budget. That move broke a pattern of buying two a year with target prices of $2 billion each. It saves $200 million or more per submarine and stabilizes the shipyards building them.
“Is there some way, perhaps, that we could try to move that up so we stay on that two-year build cycle?” Akin asked.
Stackley explained that other priorities within the fiscal 2014 budget made it impossible to fund another Virginia submarine and another destroyer that year. Don’t be surprised if Congress comes up with funds for the slipped submarine.
Akin asked: If there were more shipbuilding money available, would “the first thing you get [be] an extra submarine?”
Stackley’s reply: “Yes, sir.”
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), whose district includes Newport News, home of the shipyard building the new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, noted that of the 91 ships to be built over the next 10 years, 31 are to be smaller Littoral Combat Ship Class (LCS) vessels.