SECNAV declines request to produce new shipbuilding plan

By Nick Wilson / June 21, 2023 at 3:45 PM

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro has declined a request from a group of Senate Armed Services Committee members who asked the service to produce an updated shipbuilding plan that ensures an amphibious warship fleet of at least 31 vessels.

In a June 19 letter obtained by Inside Defense, Del Toro said the Navy intends to meet legal amphibious warship requirements and indicated he is prepared to brief the committee on the subject but did not provide an updated plan.

“The [Navy Department] will continue to make investments to put us on course to achieve and maintain a ready and capable amphibious warship fleet that meets the needs of our Joint Force Commanders,” Del Toro wrote. “I am prepared to come brief you in more detail.”

The secretary’s letter is a response to a June 13 letter, authored by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and signed by a bipartisan group of 13 other Senate Armed Services Committee members, that called for an updated shipbuilding plan and a briefing from Del Toro by Monday, June 19.

Lawmakers criticized the Navy’s fiscal year 2024 budget request -- which excluded a new amphibious transport dock from procurement plans while decommissioning three aging amphibious warships -- and the subsequent 30-year shipbuilding plan.

Although Congress set the 31 L-class ship floor in the FY-23 National Defense Authorization Act, the Navy’s 30-year plan sees the fleet remaining below that level for the plan’s duration.

Del Toro’s letter says the Navy has “every intention to meet the legally mandated amphibious ship requirements,” adding that he is in “constant consultation” with the Marine Corps commandant and chief of naval operations to maintain an effective portfolio of capabilities for the services.

In a statement shared with Inside Defense, Sullivan expressed dissatisfaction with Del Toro’s reply.

“I wish the secretary of the Navy had simply said he will follow the law -- and presented a plan to the [Senate Armed Services Committee] to do so by the deadline we respectfully requested,” Sullivan said. “While he assures the committee he ‘has every intention’ of following the law, his 30-year shipbuilding plan says the exact opposite, never meeting the 31 amphibious ship statutory minimum over the next 30 years.”

Sullivan’s statement adds that the senator plans to introduce an amendment to the FY-24 defense policy bill that would “force” the Navy to adhere to the amphibious warship requirement.