The House Committee on Appropriations Defense subcommittee has completed their Defense Bill for FY13. This is just one more step in the process and far from the final bill, but it does give us a good sense of what is on the mind of Congress. I have listed a handful of items that I found interesting in the report.
F/A–18E/F Tactical AircraftI am not sure the split between SLEP and new construction for dealing with the shoftfall of F-18s, does anyone know?
The Committee believes a strong tactical aircraft fleet is vital to the Nation’s security. The F/A–18E/F Super Hornet aircraft, which is nearing the end of its production run, is the Navy’s current strike fighter workhorse. The future of Navy tactical aviation will be the F–35C Lightning II aircraft, which will bring a fifth generation strike fighter to the decks of the Nation’s aircraft carriers. As a result of several variables, not the least of which has been the increased flight hours flown by the Navy’s tactical aircraft fleet in support of conflicts around the world, the Navy has been faced with a strike fighter shortfall. To partially offset the severity of this shortfall, the Navy has begun a service life extension program for 150 of the legacy F–18 Hornet aircraft. While still in its infancy, this effort is expected to gain approximately 1,400 flight hours per aircraft at a cost of approximately $25,000,000 per aircraft. The Committee notes that a new Super Hornet aircraft has a cost of approximately $55,000,000 and an expected service life of 9,000 flight hours. When comparing the two options, a new aircraft would provide six times the service life at just twice the cost. While it is not reasonable to close the entire strike fighter shortfall gap with new aircraft, a small quantity of new aircraft is an attractive alternative, especially considering the additional flight hours gained. Accordingly, the recommendation provides $605,000,000 for the procurement of an additional eleven Super Hornet aircraft above the request.
EA–18G Electronic Attack AircraftThis is just smart. It is my belief the EA-18G is the best aircraft on the planet being built today, and one of the main reasons the British have chosen exactly wrong to not put EMALS on their CVFs.
The Department of the Navy has accomplished the Nation’s airborne electronic attack (AEA) mission for the Department of Defense for several years. This mission has largely been performed with the EA–6B Prowler aircraft flown by the Navy and Marine Corps. The mission is currently transitioning to the EA–18G Growler aircraft (a variant of the F/A–18 aircraft) as the Prowler aircraft age and are retired. There are currently 19 airborne electronic attack squadrons in the Department of the Navy, however, only 15 Growler squadrons are planned. This is due to the fact that the Marine Corps will not fly the Growler aircraft but intends to move away from dedicated airborne electronic attack squadrons and shift to an organic capability using electronic warfare payloads such as Intrepid Tiger and the inherent capabilities within the F–35 aircraft. Although this approach is envisioned to satisfy the requirements of the Marine Corps, the Committee is concerned about the reduced AEA capability for the Nation at large. The Prowler aircraft (and the compatible AEA mission) has been a high demand, low density platform since the days of Desert Storm and is expected to continue as such. Accordingly, the recommendation provides $45,000,000 above the request for the advance procurement of materials for the construction of 15 additional EA–18G aircraft in fiscal year 2014 to preserve the option of increasing the quantity of this vital aircraft.
The MQ–8 Firescout vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle will provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data to users without the use of manned aircraft or reliance on national assets. The Navy’s original plan for this platform was for use in the mission packages onboard the Littoral Combat Ships. With the delay in construction and fielding of these ships, the aircraft has migrated to other roles and missions, which has disrupted the testing and development schedule, resulting in a concurrent development, testing, and production schedule. The current state of this program is not unlike the Joint Strike Fighter program, although both programs have arrived at their current state via different paths. Concurrency in an acquisition program is undesirable in that end items are being procured despite the development and testing being incomplete. This condition typically results in the need to modify, at some cost, these end items as problems are discovered and resolved. Recent examples of issues in the Firescout program include one aircraft that was unable to be recovered on its host ship and ultimately crashed into the water, and another aircraft that lost communications with its control station and was lost while conducting operations. These incidents have resulted in the Firescout fleet being grounded from routine operations. Additionally, the Firescout program is in the midst of a transition from the MQ–8B variant to the MQ–8C variant, which will possess much greater endurance relative to the MQ–8B. However, this transition has been delayed as not all components of the MQ–8C variant are ready for production. The result of the delay in transitioning variants in this program has been the stockpiling of development funding. The program essentially has two years of development funding to expend in fiscal year 2012 and undoubtedly a large portion of that will carry over to fiscal year 2013. Therefore the recommendation provides $33,600,000 for the development of the Firescout program, a reduction of $66,000,000.
The Committee recognizes the parallels between this program and the Joint Strike Fighter program. The F–35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter was placed on probation as a result of some of the technical challenges it faced. Although probation was never specifically defined for the Committee, the Department recently removed the F–35B from probation, an indication that the strategy achieved its objectives. The Committee urges the Secretary of the Navy to use a similar strategy on the Firescout program and report to the congressional defense committees not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act on the strategy and its planned objectives.
The report says "unable to be recovered on its host ship and ultimately crashed into the water" which is quite confusing. What really happened was the Fire Scout had problems during landing and crashed into the water, but the ship was able to pull up beside the Fire Scout quickly enough to get it out of the water. It was basically a lucky screw up, but sailors often make their own luck and did exactly that in recovering the crashed Fire Scout.
The Navy’s shipbuilding program is the centerpiece of the Navy’s budget request. The Nation’s fleet creates our forward presence, projects power, and maintains open sea lanes. The Committee is well aware that the sight of a U.S. Navy ship on the horizon makes a powerful strategic statement in any theater. The Committee strongly supports all actions to maintain the standing of the United States Navy as the world’s preeminent sea power and a global good neighbor when humanitarian relief is required. The Committee is therefore puzzled by the Navy’s priorities in its shipbuilding plan.This is where is starts getting interesting. The House saves 3 of the retiring cruisers, and has funding throughout the budget markup for the five helicopters, AEGIS Mods, and other upgrades specific to those 3 cruisers.
As part of its new strategy, the Department of Defense has rebalanced toward the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions of the world. Despite these regions having a significantly larger area of the world’s oceans, the Navy plans to accelerate the decommissioning of seven guided missile cruisers, has reduced the shipbuilding budget by nearly eleven percent relative to the fiscal year 2012 appropriated level, and is reducing the total number of ships required to fulfill its requirements under this new strategy. The required fleet size has been reduced from 313 ships to approximately 300 ships in the long term, but the Navy will maintain 285 ships in the near term. The Navy has also deferred the procurement of an attack submarine and a guided missile destroyer, the backbone of the Navy’s combatant fleet, from fiscal year 2014 to future years and, in their place has inserted a vessel known as the Afloat Forward Staging Base. This vessel would fill a very long standing (but never fulfilled) mission need. The Committee applauds the Navy for finally fulfilling such a long standing need but is confused by the timing of this action in an era of decreasing budgets and also by the fact that a submarine and destroyer are not being procured in fiscal year 2014 in part to make funding available for this new vessel.
The decision to defer the procurement of a submarine and a destroyer is both confusing and concerning, especially the submarine. Since its inception in 1998, the Virginia Class Submarine program always intended to build two submarines per year. Although the second submarine repeatedly appeared in outyear budget projections, it was continually deferred by the Navy. The program finally reached a rate of two submarines per year in fiscal year 2011, largely due to the efforts of this Committee. Now, after only three years at this rate (2011 through 2013), the Navy is again reducing the production rate. The Committee believes this decision will increase the cost of the submarines, result in production inefficiencies, and exacerbate the Navy’s own predicted attack submarine shortfall. Additionally, with the impending addition of the SSBN replacement submarine to the shipbuilding budget, an event which will ‘‘suck the air out of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget’’ according to a former Secretary of Defense, funding in the outyears will not be any easier to come by.
The Committee believes the Navy recognizes the need to fund another destroyer and submarine in fiscal year 2014 since the Navy has approached the Committee with various plans and schemes to attempt to restore these ships to fiscal year 2014. One of these plans revolves around the incremental funding concept despite the fact that the Department’s own financial management regulations and policies prohibit incremental funding of large end items such as ships, except under certain circumstances, none of which apply in this case. The Committee strongly supports these regulations and policies because fully funded end items do not commit future Congresses to obligations they may or may not agree with and also because they provide the ability to conduct much more complete, transparent, and rigorous program oversight. Incremental funding is certainly comparable to buying items on credit by deferring payments to the outyears.
The Committee understands the constraints of the fiscal year 2014 budget, but to give up two highly prized combatants, and fund instead a vessel for a mission that can be (and has been) satisfied with existing ships, then attempt to restore those combatants through funding gimmicks in violation of the Department’s own financial regulations is deeply troubling. The Committee firmly believes that a strong Navy shipbuilding program is absolutely essential for the Nation’s security but will not mortgage the Nation’s future to accomplish it. Accordingly, the recommendation provides an additional $1,000,000,000 above the request for the procurement of an additional DDG–51 guided missile destroyer. The Secretary of the Navy is directed to use this funding as part of the DDG–51 multiyear procurement planned for fiscal years 2013 through 2017 in order to achieve a lower cost and provide a more stable production base for the duration of the DDG–51 multiyear procurement. Finally, the recommendation provides an additional $723,000,000 above the request for advance procurement for the Virginia Class Submarine program. The Secretary of the Navy is directed to fully fund an additional submarine in fiscal year 2014 to achieve a lower cost and stable production base through the course of the program’s planned multiyear procurement.
The House has also added 1 Burke class destroyer and 1 Virginia class submarine back into the shipbuilding plan, and specifically the extra Burke would go in this fiscal year while the Virginia would go in next fiscal year. The idea is that Sean Stackley would be able to negotiate better contracts for a multi-year procurement using 10 Burke's and 10 Virginia's. over the next five years similar to how he did the Littoral Combat Ships. I hope he is successful, but I am not sure this is going to actually save much money except in certain material costs, because there really is no competition when each shipyard is basically going to get 1 ship a year regardless. Ultimately, with the House plan, the Navy is getting an extra destroyer and an extra submarine for the cost of the AFSB. I'd be very surprised if the Navy was disappointed by that trade.
Littoral Combat Ship Manning
From its inception, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was planned to be minimally manned by small, experienced crews and therefore contains limited berthing commensurate with the minimal manning requirement. It is the Committee’s understanding that all crewmembers were to have experienced at least one deployment prior to joining the LCS crew and that no first tour junior officers or first term enlisted sailors would be eligible to join an LCS crew without having prior at-sea experience. Since the prototypical training opportunities are not available on the LCS and manning is limited, the entire crew must be capable of performing a variety of tasks. The Committee now understands that the Navy is assigning ensigns without prior sea duty to each LCS crew as part of a new pilot program. The Committee is concerned that the lack of training opportunities will pose a particular challenge for junior officers with no at-sea crew experience. In addition, the LCS will have to rely on the addition of an interim or temporary berthing module when fully manned to accommodate all of the personnel onboard due to an insufficient number of permanent berths.I'm not sure what to make of this except the Navy now appears to have an artificial deadline of 120 days after the FY13 defense budget passes to reveal what the plans are for LCS crewing. This isn't a big deal, I think the Navy already knows exactly what they are going to do regarding LCS-1, and has been simply buying time to study LCS-2 a bit more before releasing their manpower plans as part of other LCS changes.
The Committee is concerned that the current LCS manning model is unrealistic and that relying on temporary solutions such as berthing modules to accommodate additional crewmembers is both impractical and detrimental to the quality of life of the entire crew. The Committee understands that more berths could be added to future ships to provide sufficient permanent berthing for all crewmembers. The Committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 120 days after enactment of this Act on future manning plans for the LCS. The report should include the Navy’s plan for future manning requirements, including how additional crewmembers will be accommodated based on the outcome of the aforementioned pilot program, how training opportunities for junior crew members will be provided, a projected timeline for proposed manning changes, and a projected cost of ship modifications to accommodate additional crew members.
Afloat Forward Staging Base
The request includes $38,000,000 for the advance procurement of items for the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB). The AFSB is envisioned by the Navy to act as a mobile at-sea platform that will provide flexible mission support and sustainment. This platform will fulfill a very longstanding (at least 20 years) but never fulfilled mission need for sea-based support for a variety of missions. In the past, this mission need has been filled by a variety of ad-hoc methods to include the use of available surface combatants or amphibious ships. The closest dedicated platform to fulfilling a similar mission need was the conversion of the Navy’s amphibious assault ship, USS Inchon, to a mine countermeasure command and support ship in 1995. This was done at a time when the Navy was shifting the fleet from an organic mine warfare capability embedded on surface combatants to a more dedicated mine warfare capability of mine hunting ships and aircraft. Similarly, the Navy plans to fill this mission need in the very near term with the conversion of the USS Ponce in fiscal year 2012.This is actually too bad, because I think the Navy has something with the AFSB - although very few people really know much about it. If I was General Dynamics, I would make a huge model of both the MLP and the AFSB for conference showroom floors and show them off at conferences in 2013. Why? Because I fully expect the Navy to come right back with the AFSB and more information by the FY14 budget submission.
Further, the Committee notes that the AFSB is planned for construction in the National Defense Sealift Fund, whose purpose in ship construction is for strategic sealift acquisition. The Committee is struggling with placing the mission of the AFSB into a strategic sealift area and directs the Secretary of the Navy to accomplish any AFSB tasks in the traditional Navy appropriation accounts.
The Committee applauds the Navy for finally attempting to satisfy such a longstanding need, but it is confused as to the timing of satisfying this need in an era of decreasing budgets and when two combatants were pulled out of the fiscal year 2014 shipbuilding program. The Committee believes this mission need can continue to be satisfied as it has been satisfied to date. The Committee directs the Navy to apply the fiscal year 2014 funding currently projected for the construction of an AFSB toward fully funding an additional submarine to help achieve cost savings and industrial base stability in that program. Accordingly, the recommendation provides no funding for the AFSB.
Here is what you need to know about AFSB - it is basically a MLP with a module that converts it into a LPH. The AFSB has a fairly large aviation capability that makes HMS Ocean look like a baby cousin. AFSB + MLP is a remarkable capability that I for one hopes to see get built and tested thoroughly, because it is a two ship system for a legitimate forward operating base at sea, and it can scale well with existing Sealift capabilities and by plugging in T-AKEs. It is certainly an 80% solution, but if it works it is an appealing capability that will go well beyond what the US Navy is using Ponce for - indeed the combination would finally get folks in the expeditionary space to start really thinking about what is possible with Sealift capabilities when you aren't married to the enormously expensive enormous amphibious ship designs.
Light Attack VehicleAir Force
The budget request proposes $186,216,000 for the Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) Product Improvement Program. The Committee recommendation provides $45,342,000, which is $140,874,000 below the request. The reduction is due to a change in the authorized acquisition objective for the LAV based on a planned end strength reduction and related elimination of three Light Armored Reconnaissance companies. The acquisition objective decreased from 1,005 to 930 vehicles.
F-22 Backup Oxygen System
The Committee is concerned by the continuing problems with hypoxia-type events involving the F–22 and the Air Force’s inability to determine a remediable root cause for this problem. As the military’s only operational fifth generation fighter, the F–22 is critical to the implementation of the National Defense Strategy. Due to the small size of the F–22 fleet, and the utmost importance of preserving the safety and readiness of F–22 pilots, the Committee strongly supports Air Force efforts to address this problem. The Committee understands that the Air Force is in the final stages of selecting a design for an automated backup oxygen system as a mitigation measure. The Committee’s recommendation therefore includes $50,000,000 only for the procurement and installation of a backup oxygen system for the F–22. The Committee further directs the Air Force to provide regular updates to the Committee on physiological events involving F–22 pilots, impacts on flight operations, and the progress of efforts to discover and implement solutions.
Odds and Ends
Department of Defense and Service Cyber ActivitiesSo Cyber Command wanted to grow up and be a real COCOM huh? Well, Congress rewards you with a reminder that you get to play by their rules now big boy. Welcome to the bureaucracy.
The Committee acknowledges the threat to and from the cyber realm and believes it has been well documented; however, the resources being expended against the threat have not. In order to better evaluate the planning and resourcing for Department of Defense cyber activities, the Committee directs the Commander, United States Cyber Command, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and each of the Service Secretaries, to provide the congressional defense committees separate budget justification material, in the form of budget documents as defined in the Department’s financial management regulation, that details the year-to-year budgets, schedule, and milestone goals over the Future Years Defense Program for the individual programs that support the goals of cyber initiatives. The programs detailed must include cyberspace operations, computer network operations, information assurance, and full spectrum cyber operations for the Department of Defense and the Services. Further, the Committee suggests that the Department continue to refine what activities, budget lines, and programs should be considered cyber in order to better coordinate and track these budgets.
Special Operations Command Undersea Mobility ProgramWhenever you see $35 million extra from Congress for any program "to undertake risk reduction activities" it means the program is seen as very important, and there have been special briefings on the Hill regarding the program.
The Committee is concerned that frequent program and strategy changes to the Undersea Mobility Program have delayed the introduction of advanced capabilities for both wet combat submersible replacement and dry combat submersible development. The current program schedule for dry combat submersibles will not field an operational evaluation platform until early 2015 with extended integrated testing not taking place until 2016. Given current dry combat submersible capability gaps and a potential shift in strategic emphasis to the Asia-Pacific and other regions that present anti-access and area-denial challenges, the Committee believes successful development and fielding of undersea mobility capabilities are critical to meeting combatant commanders’ needs. Additionally, the Committee is concerned that the highly perishable and technical operational expertise for wet and dry combat submersibles resident within the Naval Special Warfare community have not been fully exercised and utilized in recent years, thereby increasing capability gaps and risks to the overall program.
The Committee recommends $35,000,000 above the request for the Undersea Mobility Program for the dry combat submersible program to enable the program to undertake risk reduction activities, thereby increasing the likelihood of delivery of a technically satisfactory system that meets the warfighter’s requirements.
Congress loves Navy SEALs.