Va. lawmaker pushes massive shipbuilding increase

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The Navy's shipbuilding strategy would have the fleet top out at 300 warships over the next three decades, but that number could drop if anticipated funding levels set by Congress fall off track.

Forbes wants to shift course, and is spearheading what he calls “a new framework” for a sustained increase in shipbuilding.

"Our goal is much larger," Forbes told The Hill on Wednesday, adding he wants to bring the Navy back to its shipbuilding heyday.

Forbes, whose eastern Virginia district straddles the Navy-heavy areas of Norfolk and Hampton Roads, has been a longtime advocate for Navy issues on the full committee. Last year, he successfully led the charge against a plan to retire seven cruisers from the fleet early.

But Forbes and his allies on the House defense panel face an uphill battle on increasing the Navy's accounts, in light of the fiscal pressure created by the across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration.

Lawmakers on the various House defense subcommittees are jockeying for position ahead of the full committee's markup of the fiscal 2014 defense budget.

The Navy won big in the Pentagon's budget plan, receiving $23.3 billion for shipbuilding in the department's $527 billion funding request.

"The fleet has been stabilized and problems in most of our shipbuilding programs have been corrected or arrested," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Senate defense appropriators on Wednesday regarding the shipbuilding budget.  

But that cash infusion is simply not enough to guarantee the shipbuilding plan's long-term success, according to the Navy's top weapons buyer.

"We do not place a lot of fidelity in the long-term" on the success of the shipbuilding plan, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told the House defense subcommittee.

Navy leaders plan to spend an average of $15.1 billion per year over the five-year plan to build up to the 300-ship force.

But after that, projected funding levels for shipbuilding "will not be sufficient" to keep pace with the Navy's plan, Stackley said.

"If we do not have the credibility on that," there is no way the Navy can guarantee it will be able to hit its shipbuilding goals, Forbes said.

Vice Adm. Allen Myers, deputy chief of naval operations for capabilities and resources, said the Navy’s plan "requires us to have a significant uptick" in funding.

That uptick, Myers said, would be comparable to the shipbuilding boom of the 1980s.

By doing that, the Navy can ensure its combat fleet can keep the 300-ship fleet in the service's plan out to 2020, Myers said.

The Navy will field a total of 66 submarines, 11 aircraft carriers and 32 amphibious landing ships as part of the shipbuilding plan.

Those vessels will be supported by 145 large and small multi-mission warships, including the littoral combat ship.

The submarine force will include a mix of ballistic and cruise missile subs, including the new nuclear-powered Virginia-class boat and the Ohio-class replacement submarine, dubbed the SSBN-X.

More than $1.6 billion has been set aside to continue development and construction of the sea service's new fleet of attack and nuclear-armed submarines, according to the fiscal 2014 budget plan.