Opening Statement of Sen. Carl Levin, SASC Navy Posture Hearing

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I want to welcome Secretary Mabus, Admiral Greenert and General Amos to the Committee this morning to testify on the plans and programs of the Department of the Navy in our review of the fiscal year 2013 annual budget and overseas contingency operations request.   We greet Admiral Greenert as he makes his first appearance before the Committee as Chief of Naval Operations.  And we want to wish General Amos good health as he recovers from a visit to the flight surgeon.  

We are grateful to each of you for your service to the nation and for the valorous and truly professional service of the men and women under your command.  And we are very grateful also to their families, knowing for the vital role families play in the success of careers and missions of our armed forces.

Two recent changes make the defense budget situation challenging for the services:  (1) The Budget Control Act passed by Congress last summer places limitations on funding for our national security; (2) Adapting to its changing role in the new strategic guidance announced by the President last January.  

The Defense Department’s most recent defense strategic guidance, issued in January, refocuses the U.S. military on the Asia-Pacific and, consistent with that strategy, the Defense Department has been working to realign U.S. military forces in countries like South Korea and Japan, and also plans to position Navy and Marine Corps forces further to the south in countries like Australia, Singapore, and possibly others.  

As we rebalance and realign our presence in the Asia Pacific, it is important that we not only get strategy right, but also get sustainability right.  This is particularly true for the Marine Corps.  With respect to the realignment of the U.S. Marines on Okinawa, for example, Senator McCain, Senator Webb and I have advocated changes to the current plan in ways that support the strategic goals of the U.S. military posture in the region, while also accounting for the fiscal, political and diplomatic realities associated with long-term sustainability.  Last month, the U.S. and Japan announced that they intend to amend certain elements of the plan, including the delinking of the movement of Marines off Okinawa from the progress on the Futenma Replacement Facility and adjusting the unit composition and number of Marines that will move to Guam.  As the details of these changes are finalized, it is important that any changes be jointly agreed upon and jointly announced with Japan, with the goal of achieving a more viable and sustainable U.S. presence in Japan and on Guam.

As we discuss the budget issues here at home, our thoughts are principally focused on places far from here.   Nearly 20,000 Marines are partnered with an approximately equal number of Afghan security forces in Afghanistan in the effort to bring security and stability to the people of that country.  In addition, our Navy forces at sea in the Central Command (CENTCOM) are joined by another 10,000 sailors on the ground, most supporting our combat forces in Afghanistan.

We all deeply regret the tragic loss of civilian life in Afghanistan, apparently caused by one of our soldiers last week.  The investigation of that incident needs to go forward expeditiously and transparently, with the due process that is also one of those core values that we hold dear as Americans.  We should not lose sight of the fact that our goals remain clear: train indigenous Afghan forces to provide for the security of the Afghan people and support them while they get larger and stronger and more capable.   The Taliban’s goals are just as clear: they regularly engage in terrorist acts against Afghan civilians in an attempt to achieve their political aims.  We should not let one tragic incident which violates our laws and values to muddy the difference between the Taliban and most of the rest of the world.

Last year, we saw how naval forces could support national goals on short notice in Libya.  Among those forces we had: (1) missile-launching ships that struck Libyan targets; (2) military aircraft supporting coalition operations, and (3) unmanned aerial vehicles providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support.  

Navy and Marine Corps forces also played a significant role in aiding the Japanese tsunami relief effort.   On our visit to Japan, the people, still stunned, were grateful to the United States for the assistance we provided.   
    
The use and possible use of our forces overseas makes it even more important that our budget provide for their success and well-being.   Our witnesses this morning are faced with a number of large challenges that confront the Department of the Navy in the budget – such as balancing modernization needs against the costs of supporting ongoing operations.     

Indeed, we face a number of issues that will need our attention as we review the DOD authorization request: 

  • Making reductions to the shipbuilding plan and retiring ships earlier than planned.   The result will be that the fleet will not grow to the previously stated goal of 313 ships, but fall from its current level of 288 and only return to the level of 288 at the end of the FYDP.   The Navy had made modest progress in increasing the size of the Navy fleet from a low of 274 ships in March 2007, but that progress would be suspended with this budget.  
  • Retiring seven (7) Aegis cruisers earlier than planned, rather than modernizing them.   
  • Delaying the Ohio Replacement Program, or SSBN(X), by two years although the Navy testified just last year that we needed to maintain the original SSBN(X) schedule to ensure that we meet our strategic deterrent patrol requirements.   
  • Reducing the end strength of the active component of the Marine Corps from 202 thousand beginning this fiscal year to 182 thousand by the end of FY16.
  • Modernizing the amphibious tractor fleet with programs for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and the Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC) that would replace the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) cancelled last year.

In this authorization request we are also being asked to commit future Congresses to several multiyear procurement programs, including ones for Virginia-class submarine, DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers, and V-22 tactical lift aircraft.  

If we approve these proposals, we will be monitoring these closely to ensure that the Department actually achieves the proposed savings, and gets costs under control in other acquisition programs.   The future strength of the Navy depends on holding firm on its cost reduction efforts and expanding them, across the whole acquisition portfolio.  

The Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 requires that the Defense Department make significant changes in its regulations and procedures governing the acquisition system.  While this legislation should help correct past problems, I also know that we will succeed only through concerted efforts within the Executive Branch to implement that legislation.   I look forward to hearing how the Department of the Navy is proceeding to implement the provisions of this Act.  
 
In addition to concern about future ship force levels, naval aviation’s force levels are under pressure.   The Navy is planning to conduct a service life extension program on some 150 F-18 aircraft already in the inventory.  Also, the Navy budget would continue to buy additional F-18 aircraft as was planned before, but the budget would buy fewer Marine Corps and Navy versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft than we had planned at this time last year.   

On that point, we saw Secretary Panetta remove the F-35B short take-off/vertical landing variant of the F-35 from a probationary status a year earlier than planned.  Senator McCain and I questioned that action, particularly since the fixes to the problems that caused Secretary Gates to put the F-35B on probation in the first place have not completed testing.  When we asked the Secretary about this, the answer was, in effect, that the F-35B has made progress in testing and is in no worse shape than the other F-35B variants.   While I am pleased that the F-35B has improved testing performance in the past year, it seems to me that it is too early to declare any victories.  

I want to commend the Secretary for fully funding this year’s ship depot maintenance account.  It is the first time that the budget request of an administration has done that in recent history.  While our submarine fleet has benefitted from 100 percent funded requirement for many years, and necessarily so, it is noteworthy that the surface fleet will receive similar treatment in the fiscal year 2013 budget.  The readiness of the Navy’s fleet is an essential element to our national security and I believe that a fully funded maintenance requirement is our best chance at ensuring our fleet reaches its expected service life.  A backlog of ship and aircraft depot maintenance remains.  With the decision to fund naval aircraft depot maintenance at 94 percent of the requirement, my understanding is that we now face a $160 million backlog for aircraft and $217 million backlog for ship maintenance.  I am interested in hearing from the witnesses how the Navy plans to address and fund these backlogs to mitigate risk across our fleet.

Finally, I want to commend you, Secretary Mabus, for your effort to lead the Department in making energy efficiency and self-reliance such a priority.  You have correctly placed a very strong emphasis on an area where, as strong as our military forces may be, we remain subject to the tyranny of energy supplies.   Thanks for your commitment to a more sustainable, stronger Navy.