Wittman: Balancing readiness, modernization is Navy's biggest challenge

By Aidan Quigley / May 12, 2021 at 1:06 PM

(Editor's Note: This has been updated to include additional comments from acting Navy Under Secretary Hondo Geurts.)

The Navy must ensure that it does not sacrifice readiness as the service moves to modernize the fleet, House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee Ranking Member Rob Wittman (VA) said Wednesday.

Wittman, speaking at the McAleese FY-22 Defense Programs Conference, said he is concerned the Navy is planning to move too fast to divest from some legacy platforms.

"As the Navy's looking to reduce force structure, they are looking at some things I think we ought to question," he said. "The number of cruisers they want to reduce, the number of missile tubes they want to reduce, the [amphibious dock landing ships] they want to reduce."

The Navy will lose 1,200 missile tubes if it cuts its cruiser numbers, Wittman said.

"The question is, how does that get replaced*" he said. "And if you completely remove those, and then say, we are going to wait four or five years to get that capacity back, that is not acceptable."

Wittman said the Navy would lose 25% of its forceable entry capability if it cuts the number of LSDs.

The Navy needs a transition plan for the legacy system to ensure there are no capability gaps, Wittman said.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't retire those systems, I'm saying we have to do it the right way," he said.

The nation needs to increase its defense budget to account for inflation, Wittman said, calling for a total defense budget of $753 billion. The Biden administration has proposed a $715 billion topline Pentagon budget.

"Our biggest challenge in the months and years ahead is this: balancing the current demand signal for readiness generation and devoting resources for modernization," he said.

Hondo Geurts, the acting under secretary of the Navy and former Navy chief acquisition executive, said at the McAleese event that if the service keeps some platforms too long, there are additional sustainment, manpower, technical data and training center costs that can be “debilitating.”

“It’s up to us to show how we balance that from a warfighter lens, from an industrial base lens, from an adaptability lens,” he said. “And we should be held accountable to show how we balance that if we are going to make a move.”

The Navy must ensure it is maximizing the returns on its investments, Geurts said.

“We’re looking at, what’s the right balance of keeping things while they’re still useful but not keeping things to the point where they are no longer useful to the missions going forward,” he said. “And not falling in love with a production just because we have the product, it has to show it can be lethal and add something to the flight.”