The House Armed Services Committee’s proposed National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 includes $6 billion more for naval shipbuilding than requested by the Trump administration. In addition, it would allocate an extra $2 billion for more F-35 fighters and another $600 million for more F/A-18 Super Hornets.
The $6 billion in extra shipbuilding funds would pay for more Littoral Combat Ships, along with another Arleigh Burke destroyer and an extra LPD amphibious assault ship. The allocations would further the committee's goal of a 355-ship Navy, an increase of about 80 hulls from current levels. The extra funds would be first installments in a five-year procurement plan that adds new surface combatants and subs to the Navy's multiyear shipbuilding contracts.
The Navy is looking at all available options to reach the 355-ship fleet target size, including reactivating mothballed vessels (like the Oliver Hazard Perry frigates) and extending the service lives of older surface combatants. The NDAA will allow the Pentagon to skip shock trials for the first-in-class carrier Gerald R. Ford, at its discretion – a move that could accelerate Ford's deployment by up to two years.
The Seapower subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee is pushing for the Navy to accelerate shipbuilding now, rather than holding off to address the fleet’s maintenance backlog first. “My objective as [House] Seapower chairman in this year's NDAA is to send a strong signal that we intend to grow our Fleet to 355 ships,” said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) in a recent statement. “I believe industry is ready to ramp up production to get us there and Congress must do its part and provide the necessary funding for shipbuilding accounts so we get on the proper glide path to 355." In a press conference, Wittman told reporters that an "aggressive plan" for shipbuilding was a "necessary first big step."
Budget fight may be coming
The extra funds for the Navy are part of a larger $640 billion defense budget from Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chair of the House Armed Service Committee. The committee’s bill exceeds the White House's request for defense spending by $37 billion and the House Budget Committee's proposal by $19 billion. All of these funding proposals represent a significant increase in military spending, and each additional billion will require Congress to choose between cuts to non-defense programs or a larger deficit – a likely starting point for a budget dispute.