Forbes criticizes Navy’s ‘paper ships’

Rep. Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesToo much ‘can do,’ not enough candor Trump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary MORE (R-Va.) on Wednesday took aim at the Navy’s decision to change the way it counts ships, chalking up the revision to adding “paper ships” to the fleet.

Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, said change in ship counting was an accounting gimmick that is masking the Navy’s inability to meet the needs of combatant commanders.

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“They’re paper ships,” Forbes said at a hearing on the Navy budget. “A change in counting will not help meet a single one of those requirements of the combatant commanders.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus last week informed Congress that it was changing its ship counting methodology to allow the counting of ships routinely requested by commanders.

“I intend to alter the battle force ship counting methodology to be more inclusive of certain conditional situations,” Mabus wrote.

“This change will provide flexibility to the Combatant Commanders to assess the near-term environment and changing situations in meeting the demands of the [Defense Strategic Guidance] DSG, and ensure that the ship types needed to execute the DSG are captured,” he said.

The new counting means the Navy will include two hospital ships, a high-speed transport ship and 10 small patrol craft, and it will reduce its count of mine counter measure ships by three.

The new counting boosts the Navy’s ship totals to 293 from 283, putting the Navy closer its goal of 306 ships — a number frequently cited by Forbes and others who want the Navy to ramp up shipbuilding construction.

The Navy says it hopes to reach that figure by 2019 under its current planning.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Forbes said that the Navy should be doing more to meet the request of the military’s combatant commanders, which total 450 ships.

“I’ve heard discussion about our combatant commanders suggesting maybe these guys came in with these wish lists,” Forbes said. “I can assure you they’re not fluffed.”

Forbes also took issue with the Navy’s 2015 budget proposal, which takes steps to retire the USS George Washington aircraft if sequestration is not reversed, which would reduce the carrier fleet to 10 from 11.

The Pentagon included an additional $115 billion over the next five years above the sequester spending caps, but those funds did not include funding for the George Washington carrier refueling.

The Navy has said it won’t decide until next year whether to retire the carrier and a carrier air wing, but Forbes argued Wednesday the Navy shouldn’t have taken refueling funds out of this year’s budget if it still hadn’t made the decision.

“There’s a huge disconnect between rhetoric we’re hearing and the actions we are taking,” he said.

Mabus told Forbes that the budget moves were made to give the Navy another year to decide on the George Washington, and he said the Navy has “exactly the correct amount of time” to start refueling process in the 2016 budget.

“We have been given guidance to prepare looking at FY16 budget, to prepare with the carrier in that budget,” Mabus said. “That is at least the initial guidance.”