Maine Senators Push Back on U.S. Navy's Plan to Cut Shipbuilding

The commissioning of the DDG-51 class destroyer USS Rafael Peralta at Bath Iron Works (file image courtesy USN)

Published Jan 7, 2020 11:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

In response to recent reports that the U.S. Navy may slightly downsize its fleet by retiring unwanted vessels and ordering less new tonnage, Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins warned that the service cannot acquire fewer ships without Congress' permission. 

“Ultimately, Congress is responsible for annual Department of Defense and Navy appropriations, and we will continue to support a growing fleet in order to protect our national security and ensure our national prosperity as threats around the world continue to grow," wrote the senators, whose constituents include Bath Iron Works, one of two builders of DDG-51 class destroyers. "We expect this congressional support for Navy shipbuilding and DDG-51 procurement to continue in FY 2021 and beyond, and we hope the [DoD] and administration will join us in these efforts."

A White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) planning memo first reported by Defense News indicates that the Department of Defense is interested in cutting DDG-51 procurement by five vessels between FY2021 and FY2025, saving nearly $10 billion. Other DoD-planned procurement cuts outlined in the memo include one less Virginia-class sub in 2021 and one less FFG(X) frigate in 2021 and 2022.

In the existing fleet, the cuts would go even deeper: Littoral Combat Ship hulls LCS-1 through LCS-4 (already demoted to "testing") would be decommissioned, along with eight other vessels. All told, under the new plan the fleet would have 287 warships by 2025 - fewer than the 290 vessels currently in service. The Navy's existing size target (and President Donald Trump's promise for a future fleet) calls for an end goal of 355 vessels. 

As the plan would result in fewer jobs in key shipbuilding constituencies and would undercut one of the president's goals in an election year, analysts have suggested that it is politically infeasible. In the memo, OMB pushed back on the Navy proposal, instructing DoD to come back with a plan “to achieve a 355-ship combined fleet . . . by 2030.”

In a departure, the memo instructs the service to include as-yet-undeveloped unmanned ships in the 355-vessel count. The Navy is currently evaluating plans for medium- and large-sized unmanned surface vessels.