CAPITOL HILL – The House Armed Services Committee’s defense bill for 2018 would allow the Navy to buy 15 Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers and 13 Virginia-class attack submarines over the next five years instead of the 10 each the Navy wanted, would urge the Navy to buy aircraft carriers every three years, and would force the destroyer shipbuilders to make quicker progress upgrading to the Flight III ship design that boasts a more impressive radar, HASC aides told reporters today.
The Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act will be debated in the HASC next week, but the subcommittee-specific sections were released today and explained to reporters by committee staff members.
This year’s bill would take several steps to pave the way to a larger fleet, staffers explained, to include making it national policy to get to a 355-ship Navy as soon as possible. It would also require the Navy to maintain a 12-aircraft carrier fleet beginning in 2023, when the future John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) is set to deliver, and it would lay the groundwork for the Navy to buy more ships and submarines through its two upcoming multiyear procurement contracts.
In an effort to increase attack submarine production, ahead of an upcoming dip in the size of the SSN fleet, the bill would have the Navy buy 13 submarines in the next five years – beyond the two a year the Navy wanted to buy, it would add a third submarine in 2020, 2022 and 2023. The first two Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarines (SSBN-826) will be bought in 2021 and 2024, and the HASC aides said the committee believes the industrial base has the capacity to build a third SSN in years the Navy is not procuring a SSBN.
That massive increase in work, though, does not take into account the added manpower and shipyard facilities it would take to build the Virginia Payload Module, an extra segment inserted into the body of the sub that adds 28 missile tubes. VPM was meant to be the heart of the Block V design, but the Navy has hesitated to say it could put VPM on all the boats in the Block V multiyear procurement contract.
The NDAA language does not weigh in on when the VPM would be introduced or how many a year the multiyear contract should include, but the HASC staffer told USNI News that, “if in fact we are going to add additional attack submarines in 2020 and 2022 and 2023, we think there may be merit with regards to delaying VPM introduction” due to industrial base capacity.
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