Pentagon’s chief acquisition candidate argues Navy needs bigger, more resilient fleet

USS Princeton (CG-59) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Halsey (DDG-97) and USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) steam in formation during a composite unit training exercise ( COMPTUEX) May 12, 2020. U.S. Navy Photo

The candidate for the Pentagon’s top acquisition position told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Navy needs a bigger, more resilient fleet.
“We need more numbers” when it comes to the size of the Navy fleet and “we want to be able to survive; we want the strike “for the future,” former Air Force assistant secretary William LaPlante said in his opening statement to the panel on Tuesday. If confirmed at the post, LaPlante said his focus “must be laser-like on [acquiring] speed and scale” through software.

Erik Raven, a longtime Senate Appropriations Committee member and nominee for Undersecretary of the Navy, said in his opening remarks that modernization “means identifying the capabilities needed, laying out a plan to acquire them, and working with industry partners”. to deliver them efficiently.

He later added, “the 30-year shipbuilding plan is a signal to the industry” of what to expect from the Navy in terms of contracts and ship mix. But “assessing the force structure is another key element” in determining the size of the fleet. He added that the latest assessment should be “completed in the near future”.

The current Navy fleet size is set at 355 ships; there are 298 ships in the fleet now, according to the service.

The federal budget for fiscal year 2023 is due out Monday.

“We have learned the lesson of Ford and thankfully we learned the lesson from the F-35… that you have to have mature technology” and realistic cost estimates in expensive platforms with new software hosts, LaPlante said of the carrier program. Ford-class aircraft and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

In written comments, LaPlante added, “It is my understanding that the F-35 program faces clear sustainment challenges in terms of readiness and affordability,” in an effort to reduce high sustainability costs.

He said a good model for moving forward in these programs would be to look to the Air Force’s B-21 bomber. This program used “open systems that we can upgrade very quickly”. The key idea is “we have these capabilities in these weapon systems” that are in place as quickly as possible for future use.

“We have known modular systems for 20 years” which would allow constant upgrading; they should “always be part of the acquisition process,” LaPlante said.

He later said that ensuring cybersecurity measures are in place at three or four levels among contractors on expensive platforms like ships and planes is critically important to their survivability. in combat.

“Don’t support cyber,” he said.

Several times, Raven was asked about the importance of shipyard infrastructure and its role in preparedness. Referring to the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP), he said “it’s [a] once-a-century bill” that promotes operational and industry readiness.

In written remarks, LaPlante said, “Understanding the supply chain, manpower, capacity, and capability constraints of the nation’s ship repair infrastructure is critical to planning improvements.” effective”.

Both Raven and LaPlante told the committee that COVID-19 has impacted shipbuilding and repair schedules over the past two years.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) urged Raven to increase shipping capacity, noting that the Chinese have 5,500 ships in its merchant fleet while the United States has 85. Shipping is “key of our combat capabilities”. Raven said he would consider adding more ships to US shipping by purchasing more commercial vessels.

In prepared responses, Raven noted its role in developing a pilot program in the Pacific for Navy work to be done in private yards, which will be expanded to the Atlantic this year. “This pilot program aims to increase the transparency and flexibility of ship depot maintenance efforts.” Raven later added that one of his goals, if confirmed, “is to build key partnerships” in the joint force, on Capitol Hill, with industry and communities supporting the facilities and operations of the Navy and Marine Corps.

“The need for modernization does not only apply to large platforms and advanced technologies such as hypersonic missiles and artificial intelligence. This also applies to facilities and infrastructure,” Raven said in her opening remarks.

On such breakthrough technologies, like hypersonics, LaPlante said the Air Force erred in moving away from glider vehicles after two failures more than a decade ago. Several senators noted that the service should have continued testing, as the Russians and Chinese did following the failures of their hypersonic vehicle program.

LaPlante added that the Pentagon needs to work more closely with “emerging tech ecosystems” across the country because these ecosystems have “strong ties to academia.”

In her prepared responses, Raven said, “I think initiatives and networks like these are key to identifying new technologies for the warfighter.”

During the hearing, LaPlante added that the Pentagon, however, needs to “show you that there is hope” that the new technology can move from the early stages of defense spending to full production.