Representatives Rob Wittman (R-VA-01) and Elaine Luria (D-VA-02) are concerned that the Biden administration’s FY 2023 spending plan and an associated 30-year shipbuilding plan will increase risk. In a Wednesday hearing of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, Wittman and Luria questioned officials about the impact of the administration’s budget.
Wittman, the subcommittee’s ranking member, also submitted a scathing written statement to the official record, criticizing the shipbuilding plan and saying he would reject an “anemic shipbuilding request” that plans to retire vessels, seeks to not maintain the naval aviation plan, would “eviscerate our mine countermeasure warfighting capabilities,” “irreparably harm our nation’s ability to support future forcible entry options” by reducing amphibious forces, and would “waste significant taxpayer’s monies.”
Wittman said documents describing the shipbuilding plans are “insidious and lay bare the abject denial of President Biden’s constitutional obligation ‘to provide and maintain a Navy.’ It is almost as if this administration has completely forgotten that we are a maritime nation and that the entire basis of our economy, and our global norms, are based on a naval maritime capability aligned with these basic principles.”
“We need to wholly and utterly reject the administration’s request for shipbuilding and decommissioning of ships. We need to start from scratch with meeting our founding fathers’ constitutional obligations,” Wittman added later in the statement.
Wittman and Luria, along with other Virginia representatives, have expressed concerns about long-term plans to shift the amount of naval assets based in Virginia to West Coast bases.
In his written statement, Wittman criticized the administration’s plan to decommission 24 vessels and build eight ships in FY 2023.
“Despite the law requiring a 355 ship Navy, the administration proposes to reduce our 298 ships immediately to 285 ships. We don’t expand our naval capacity and capabilities by subtracting more than we add,” Wittman wrote.
During the hearing, Wittman and Luria both asked U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Karsten Heckl about the administration’s plan to reduce the number of amphibious ships.
“Our absolute bare minimum for traditional, L-Class amphibious warships is 31,” Heckl told Wittman, adding that ships are being faster than they’re being delivered and deployed.
“It’s a simple fact that under this plan we will got a number of 24 amphibs in the next three-to-five years. What that translate to for us is risk,” Heckl said.
He said that would impact operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, although he said “we will be able to likely provide the appropriate support in the Indo-Pacific theater.”
Later in the hearing, Luria asked Heckl to expound on his comments about the reduction of amphibious ships.
“We will not be able to have adequate forces forward to respond in a timely manner. So, the Marine Corps is tasked to be the crisis response force for the nation. The implication of crisis response is timely response. So again, I’ll come back to the whole thing that time can often represent risk that can’t be overcome, right. So that’s the biggest issue, Ma’am, is just not being forward and being able to have a timely and capable response,” Heckl said.
“I’ll paraphrase what you just said, that his budget request does not propose a force that would give us significant forces, amphibious forces to have a response in a timely manner,” Luria responded, asking that that be reflected in a risk assessment due to be presented to the legislators.
In his own written statement, Subcommittee Chairman Joe Courtney (D-CT-02) was kinder than Wittman to the administration’s shipbuilding plan, but expressed similar concerns about the reduction in amphibious forces.
“I also have concerns with the overall plan for amphibious force structure; specifically, how the 2023 budget request and the 30-year shipbuilding plan don’t seem to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ stated requirement for 31 L-Class ships,” Courtney wrote.
After Luria’s comments on the plan in the hearing, Courtney said that Heckl’s message about risk had been heard, and referenced the section of the U.S. Constitution granting broad power to Congress, including the powers to tax and spend and maintain a Navy.
“I agree with the gentle-lady that the subcommittee has heard that message loud and clear, and I think we’re going to move out with our Article One, Section Eight authorities under the Constitution to address that when we get closer to the mark.”